Top US diplomat calls on Senate to confirm ambassadors

The rate of confirmation of US ambassadors has lagged behind previous administrations.

Vice President Kamala Harris participates in a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony with former Senator Jeff Flake to be the US ambassador to Turkey [File: Evan Vucci/AP Photo]

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called on Senators to confirm President Joe Biden‘s picks for ambassador posts worldwide, saying the sluggish process is hampering foreign policy and national security.

Speaking during a trip to Indonesia on Tuesday, Blinken noted that the rate of ambassadors confirmed by the Senate lagged far behind previous administrations.

As of last week, Blinken said just 16 percent of Biden’s picks to head embassies across the world had been confirmed. At the same point in the last three administrations – stretching back to 1993 – that number was between 70 percent and 90 percent of appointees.

“This is a huge problem,” Blinken told a news conference in Jakarta. “For the sake of our national security, the Senate must act.”

Under Senate rules, a single senator can block the quick confirmation of ambassadors, usually kicking off a lengthy process to work around the opposition.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz has so far blocked dozens of nominees considered otherwise non-controversial, in an attempt to pressure the Biden administration into re-enlisting opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will deliver natural gas from Russia to Germany.

As of last week, just nine ambassadors had been confirmed to their posts, including the top diplomats for Turkey, Mexico, Canada, New Zealand, Austria, Singapore, Kosovo, Israel and the United Nations.

Another 54 have been confirmed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and are awaiting final approval by the full chamber. Biden had appointed 77 ambassadors as of December 6.

Members of both political parties have warned that the lack of formal ambassadors in vacant positions risks harming relations with other countries, as some governments refuse to work with the charges d’affaires who hold the posts in the interim.

“Public diplomacy is neutered when you don’t have an ambassador,” Senator Chris Murphy told The Washington Post in October. “When six months or a year goes by without a US ambassador, [foreign governments] infer that it’s a value judgement being placed on the relationship.”

Speaking on Tuesday, Blinken added: “Virtually every challenge we face, including dealing with Russia, with China, with non-state factors, we’re hampered by the fact that we don’t have our full national security and foreign policy team on the field.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies