Trump administration doesn't have ambassadors in Saudi Arabia or Turkey

Trump administration doesn't have ambassadors in Saudi Arabia or Turkey

The Trump administration does not have ambassadors in Saudi Arabia or Turkey amid an escalating diplomatic crisis stemming from the alleged murder of a U.S.-based Saudi journalist in Istanbul.

The vacancies are receiving renewed attention as the White House seeks to navigate reports by Turkish authorities claiming Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi agents in the Istanbul's Saudi consulate. 

Saudi leadership denies any involvement with Khashoggi's disappearance.

"We need an ambassador in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt," Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedPentagon chief nominee: 'We need to get back on the diplomatic channel' with Iran Overnight Defense: House approves 3 billion defense bill | Liberal sweeteners draw progressive votes | Bill includes measure blocking Trump from military action on Iran Senators urge Trump to sanction Turkey for accepting Russian missile shipment MORE (D-R.I.) said on Wednesday morning at the Defense Writers Group breakfast. 

"In a typical situation we would send a well-respected, well-regarded ambassador to deliver a very stern message about what we expect and what we had was a photo op where the Secretary of State was smiling," Reed added.

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President TrumpDonald John TrumpEsper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump Warren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' As tensions escalate, US must intensify pressure on Iran and the IAEA MORE dispatched Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoAs tensions escalate, US must intensify pressure on Iran and the IAEA The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet Trump's Huawei concession is 'the rope that could hang America' MORE to speak to Saudi leadership this week, and has himself spoken on the phone with the crown prince and king.

Pompeo and Trump have both relayed Saudi Arabia's denials that Saudi leadership knew anything about Khashoggi's alleged murder. 

The Trump administration has yet to nominate ambassadors in 20 countries, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia. 

Pompeo and lawmakers have sparred over who is to blame for the ambassadorial vacancies.

Pompeo places the onus on the Senate, which has yet to confirm more than 50 of Trump's nominees. Lawmakers point out the president still has not nominated ambassadors to key positions across the Middle East and Latin America in particular.

Ronald Neumann, the president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, told The Associated Press that failing to have an ambassador to certain countries can make it appear that the U.S. does not care about that diplomatic relationship as much. 

"Countries may get grouchy without an ambassador and that may affect relations,” he told the AP. “Without an ambassador, there is a greater chance of misunderstanding and greater chance you aren’t able to persuade them to do something we want.”

The AP's diplomatic reporter Matt Lee drew attention during a fiery exchange with State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino last week, in which he pointed out there are no ambassadors to either country. 

"What's the name of the ambassador in Turkey right now?" Lee asked.

"I don't have that in front of me right now and I - Matt ..." Palladino responded.

"What's the name of the ambassador in Saudi Arabia right now?" Lee asked, pressing the issue.

"I see what you're getting at," Palladino replied. "OK. We're confident in our diplomatic—" 

"The answer is that you don't have an ambassador in either place, right?" Lee said.

Ellen Mitchell contributed reporting.