Diplomats union to vote on ambassador nominees

AP News
Posted: Feb 25, 2014 6:21 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — An association for U.S. diplomats will vote next month on whether to oppose the nominations of three political fundraisers who have been tapped for ambassador posts overseas.

The March 5 vote will not have an official or binding impact on the fate of the Obama administration's nominees, American Foreign Service Association President Robert J. Silverman said Tuesday. Instead, it is intended to send a strong signal to the White House and Congress about whether the nominees are qualified to run U.S. diplomatic missions abroad.

The vote comes as the White House faces blistering criticism about a handful of ambassador nominees who have scant knowledge or expertise about the nations where they would serve as the top representative for the U.S. government. Several of the nominees were top-dollar campaign fundraisers and donors for President Barack Obama, raising concerns they were rewarded for their lucrative political support.

"We do have concerns about qualifications for nominees," Silverman told reporters.

However, "I can't prejudge the outcome of those discussions."

The three nominees are George Tsunis for Norway, Noah Bryson Mamet for Argentina and Colleen Bell for Hungary. None has extensive experience with the nations where they would be stationed.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki declined to comment.

Silverman said the association, which represents about 16,000 diplomats, does not object to nominees who have little or no official diplomatic experience and noted that many successful envoys come from the business community or other private-sector jobs. But the group also unveiled a set of guidelines Tuesday that it said should be considered by the White House and Senate when nominating and confirming ambassadors.

The proposed qualifications included leadership, interpersonal and managerial skills, the ability to formulate high-level policy and knowledge of the foreign area.

The last time the diplomats' association opposed an ambassador nominee was in 1993, when then-President Bill Clinton tapped multimillionaire real estate and insurance broker M. Larry Lawrence to be the U.S. envoy to Switzerland. Lawrence was one of the richest men in America, and a Democratic Party donor, but was fined by the Federal Elections Commission for excessive political contributions. He was buried in Arlington Cemetery when he died in 1996 but was later disinterred when congressional investigators could find no record of his military service, as he had claimed.

However, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmed Lawrence's nomination, and he served as ambassador to Switzerland for two years.

A study by the diplomats' association concludes that 37 percent of ambassadors during the Obama administration have been political appointees. That is the highest rate since former President Ronald Reagan's administration in the 1980s. By contrast, only about 30 percent of former President George W. Bush's ambassadors were political diplomats.


Follow Lara Jakes on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/larajakesAP