President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE has announced his intention to nominate retired Gen. John Abizaid to serve as ambassador to Saudi Arabia, a key posting that comes amid heightened tensions between the longtime allies.
Abizaid, who currently serves as a visiting fellow at Stanford University, is a former head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and is well-versed in the politics of the Middle East. He retired from the military in 2007.
The 67-year-old spent his military career leading missions in Iraq, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. He served as deputy commander of CENTCOM from 2003-2007.
Abizaid's nomination has not yet been formally sent to the Senate, which will need to confirm him for the role.
The job as ambassador to Saudi Arabia has remained unfilled since Trump took office 22 months ago. The vacancy caused a considerable amount of tension in recent weeks as the administration deals with the fallout of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and Virginia resident, was last seen entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Turkish officials have claimed he was killed there and his body was dismembered and disposed of as part of a premeditated operation.
Turkish officials and U.S. lawmakers have indicated that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was likely involved at some level in Khashoggi's death.
The Saudis have offered changing explanations for what happened, first denying knowledge of Khashoggi's whereabouts and later claiming he was killed in a "fight" gone wrong. A top Saudi official indicated late last month that the killing was "premeditated."
The Turks have shared an audio recording of Khashoggi’s final moments with the United States, as well as with Saudi Arabia, Britain, France and Germany. National security adviser John Bolton said Tuesday that the audio does not appear to implicate the Saudi crown prince.
Lawmakers have called to punish Saudi Arabia with sanctions, but Trump has expressed reluctance to endanger the economic relationship between the two countries with such a move.
The Trump administration has drawn criticism for the pace at which it has nominated ambassadors to key roles. The Senate in recent months confirmed ambassadors to Germany and South Korea, but the roles remain unfilled in Mexico and Turkey, among other nations.
The job of ambassador to the United Nations is also in transition, as Nikki HaleyNikki HaleyPoll: Trump dominates 2024 Republican primary field Harris to hold fundraiser for McAuliffe ahead of Virginia governor's race Allies see rising prospect of Trump 2024 White House bid MORE has announced her plans to leave by the end of the year. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert is said to be the favorite for the role, and Trump has promised an announcement about the position in the near future.
--Updated at 6:55 p.m.