Trump has yet to name ambassadors to key nations in Mideast

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President Trump has yet to fill half a dozen ambassadorships in the Middle East, including in key powers such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

The nation of Jordan, a key player in the Palestinian peace process, also lacks an ambassador.

The gaps exist even as Trump seeks major policy changes in the Middle East, including Wednesday’s move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Palestinian leaders have called for three “days of rage” against the United States over the embassy change, presenting a challenge for diplomatic staff charged with protecting Americans and handling diplomacy. 

Since taking office in January, Trump has tapped 60 nominees for ambassadorships, 44 of which have been confirmed by the Senate.

Dozens of posts remain unfilled, according to a tally of ambassadorial nominations kept by the American Foreign Service Association. Embassies in Qatar and Turkey are currently helmed by chargés d’affaires. 

Barbara Leaf, the U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates since 2014, is set to leave her post this month. Trump has not yet nominated her replacement.

{mosads}Trump has given plenty of attention to the Middle East, visiting Saudi Arabia and putting his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner in charge of handling the peace process. 

The lack of appointees in the Middle East, however, could make it tougher to achieve Trump’s goal of securing the “ultimate deal.”

The White House did not return The Hill’s request for comment regarding the ambassadorial vacancies in the Middle East.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the dozens of vacancies haven’t hindered the department’s work. 

“The State Department is not missing a beat just because we’ve got some nominees that are still working through the process,” Tillerson told embassy staffers and their family members in Brussels. 

Steve Pike, an assistant professor of public relations and public diplomacy at Syracuse University and a 23-year veteran of the foreign service, said that the Trump administration’s lack of ambassadors in key Middle Eastern countries could be construed as a sign of disrespect, particularly given that Trump has already installed an ambassador to Israel.

“It appears as disrespectful to Arab public opinion and makes it harder for Arab leaders to work with the United States,” he said.  

In announcing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Wednesday, Trump said he remained committed to striking an agreement “that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians” and that the move should not be seen as the U.S. taking a position on how the city could be partitioned as part of a future agreement.

Palestinians have expressed strong interest in making Jerusalem their future capital in a two-state solution.

Trump also said he would direct the State Department to begin preparations for moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, though he signed a six-month national security waiver keeping the facility in Tel Aviv for the time being.

Still, the move is likely to prompt unrest in the Middle East. Leaders in Arab and Muslim-majority countries have warned in recent days against declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying that doing so would spark violence and undermine the peace process.

For decades, the U.S. and virtually the entire international community have maintained embassies in Tel Aviv, because of the disputed nature of Jerusalem.

Both Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis both reportedly advised Trump against moving the embassy from Tel Aviv, citing security concerns.

Tags James Mattis Jerusalem Middle East Rex Tillerson State Department
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