Jamal Khashoggi: Disappearance of journalist exposes Trump's lack of US ambassadors to Saudi Arabia and Turkey

More than 18 months into presidency, former reality TV star yet to nominate ambassadors in 22 nations

Samuel Osborne
Saturday 13 October 2018 17:28 BST
Donald Trump warns of 'severe punishment' if Saudis found responsible for journalist's death

The crisis over the disappearance of a Saudi journalist has highlighted Donald Trump’s lack of US ambassadors in Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Jamal Khashoggi went missing after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, and authorities there believe he may have been murdered by a Saudi “assassination squad”.

The 59-year-old may even have recorded the moments he was allegedly tortured and killed on his Apple Watch, according to a Turkish newspaper.

Donald Trump has warned of “severe punishment” if Saudi Arabia is found to be behind Mr Khashoggi's death, though the US president stopped short of threatening to ban arms deals with the kingdom.

When he was asked whether the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, gave an order to kill Mr Khashoggi, Mr Trump said: ”Nobody knows yet, but we’ll probably be able to find out.”

Speaking in an interview with CBS News, Mr Trump added: “We would be very upset and angry if that were the case.”

Mr Khashoggi was reportedly banned from writing in newspapers, making TV appearances and attending conferences in Saudi Arabia after criticising Mr Trump when he was president-elect.

His disappearance has called attention to the large number of diplomatic vacancies under Mr Trump – particularly in Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Nearly two years into the former reality TV star’s presidency, Mr Trump has yet to nominate candidates for ambassadorial posts in 22 nations, including Egypt, Mexico, Pakistan, Australia, Ireland, South Africa, Singapore and Sweden.

At the same time, 46 ambassadorial nominees are still awaiting Senate confirmation,

A number of ambassador positions to international organisations also remain unfilled, as do 13 senior positions at the State Department headquarters, for which five have no nominee.

On Friday, Turkey freed an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, after repeated complaints and sanctions from Washington.

However, the management of diplomatic relations can deteriorate without the presence of a personal representative of the president.

The difference between having an ambassador in country or only having a a charge d’affaires running an embassy is a matter of degree but can be substantial, according to Ronald Neumann, the president of the American Academy of Diplomacy.

Mr Neumann said that non-ambassadors can have trouble getting access to senior officials and may not be viewed as the legitimate voice of the president or his administration.

“An ambassador is the personal representative of the president. A charge is the representative of the State Department,” he explained.

Some countries may also resent not having an ambassador posted to their capital.

“Countries may get grouchy without an ambassador and that may affect relations,” he said. “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.”

Saudi Arabia’s interior minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Naif, has condemned what he called “lies and baseless allegations” against the kingdom in relation to the Khashoggi case.

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