President Donald Trump says the US is being “very tough” in dealing with the disappearance of a Saudi journalist in Saudi Arabia’s Turkish embassy. There’s a snag, though: The US doesn’t have an ambassador in either Ankara or Riyadh to handle the crisis.
The New York Times and Washington Post (paywalls) report that Turkish officials believe Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist based in the US who in the past year has become critical of the Saudi monarchy, was killed in the embassy. US intelligence reports say Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman signed off on a plot to abduct him, reports the Washington Post, where Khashoggi was a contributor.
Trump offered his take on the situation to Fox News this morning: “We don’t like it. I don’t like it. No good.”
In a fiery exchange with a reporter yesterday, US State Department spokesman Robert Palladino insisted that “senior diplomatic officials” were “very much in charge” of the situation, despite the absence of ambassadors to both countries. He seemed to blame the Senate for not having confirmed people to the positions—despite no one having been nominated for either job.
The two US allies are far from the only important powers not to have a US ambassador in place. The Trump administration has struggled to fill major State Department positions, after swaths of top Republican foreign policy figures signed a letter (paywall) warning against Trump during the campaign. In total, 56 countries have no US ambassadors—with vacancies in key places like Mexico, Pakistan, Egypt, Qatar, the UAE, and South Africa.
Here’s a full list of absentees.