“I don’t have that name in front of me right now and …” other attempts to not answer.
As you know, we have a pretty major crisis just now between two extremely important U.S. allies, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, over the apparent kidnapping and likely murder, by Saudi agents in Turkey, of a prominent Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi had fled Saudi Arabia for his safety after criticizing the rule of the rising Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and had been granted permanent resident status in the United States, and has not been seen since he entered the Saudi consulate in Turkey. The Saudis are not explaining what became of him. But you knew all that.
At a press briefing yesterday in Washington, State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino got caught in a hilarious back and forth, transcript below, because he didn’t want to acknowledge that in the midst of this crisis the United States doesn’t have an ambassador in either country, both vitally important and, in fact, hasn’t had an ambassador to Saudi Arabia since the inauguration of Donald Trump, now almost two years ago. The top spot atop the U.S. embassy in Turkey has been vacant for one year.
At the briefing, Associated Press reporter Matt Lee (who obviously knew the answer) decided to torment poor Palladino, who was not anxious to acknowledge that the administration for which he speaks has left such key posts vacant for so long and now finds itself doubly ambassadorless in the midst of a pretty serious crisis. The following is from the State Department transcript:
QUESTION: And then in terms of your high-level diplomatic talks, other than the calls you – other than the calls that you’ve read out here, presumably you have people on the ground in both Ankara, Istanbul – in Ankara, Istanbul, and Riyadh all pushing this, right?
MR PALLADINO: Our embassies overseas, absolutely.
MR PALLADINO: Our diplomatic mission overseas.
QUESTION: Who again – what’s the name of the ambassador in Turkey right now?
MR PALLADINO: I don’t have that in front of me right now and I – Matt —
QUESTION: What’s the name of the ambassador in Saudi Arabia right now?
MR PALLADINO: I see what you’re getting at. Okay. We are confident in our diplomatic —
QUESTION: The answer is that you don’t have an ambassador in either place, right?
MR PALLADINO: We —
QUESTION: And in fact, the chargé in Riyadh has now been nominated to be the ambassador to Yemen. So just is it correct that you do not have ambassadors in place in either Ankara or Riyadh?
MR PALLADINO: But we have diplomatic staff, senior diplomatic officials —
QUESTION: I’m sure you do.
MR PALLADINO: — very much – very much in charge. And yesterday Heather spoke at the top as well about the need for the State Department to get its full team on the field, and we definitely would reiterate our request for our colleagues in the Senate and their assistance in fielding our full camp.
QUESTION: Understood. Who has been nominated to be the new ambassador to Turkey, and who has been nominated to be the new ambassador to Saudi Arabia? Who are the nominees who are awaiting Senate movement?
MR PALLADINO: Matt, I don’t have that in front of me right now. And – but let me just say these are senior Foreign Service officers that have had full careers and we’re confident in our team’s ability.
QUESTION: You’re sure someone’s been nominated for both positions?
MR PALLADINO: I would have to take the question, Matt.
QUESTION: Robert. Robert, really quickly, just —
MR PALLADINO: All right, one more. Let’s go to Fox.