The Cable

Republicans reject Obama’s Turkey envoy

The nomination of Frank Ricciardone to be the next U.S. ambassador to Turkey is being held up in the Senate and the GOP has no intention of allowing a vote on the nomination any time soon.

A spokesperson for Sen. Sam Brownback, R-KS, confirmed to The Cable that his office has placed a hold on the nomination, which was reported out favorably by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month. Brownback is preparing a letter now to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explaining the reasons for his objections.

Brownback's office declined to specify the contents of the letter, but multiple GOP senate aides from other offices said that there was widespread support throughout the caucus for Brownback's position and that there was nothing specific the administration could do to convince Ricciardone's detractors to allow his nomination to proceed. If Brownback did release his hold, it's likely another one would surface soon after.

"He's just the wrong guy for this sensitive post at this time and the hope is that the administration will recognize that he won't be confirmed this year and nominate someone better," said one senior GOP aide close to the issue.

Of course, the president could appoint Ricciardone this month during the congressional recess and avoid a Senate confirmation vote, but then Ricciardone would be ambassador only until the new Congress is seated in January, at which point a potentially larger GOP Senate caucus would likely raise the same objections.

The controversy over the nomination is mired in the history of U.S. relations with several of the countries in which Ricciardone has served, including Turkey, Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan.

To his supporters, Ricciardone is a distinguished 34-year veteran of the Foreign Service who has taken on tough assignments in dangerous places on behalf of both Democratic and Republican administrations. To his critics, Ricciardone's record shows a pattern of being too close to the governments he is interacting with and too tepid on the mission to push values such as democracy and human rights with tyrannical regimes.

The tenuous nature of the U.S.-Turkey relationship right now due to Turkey's vote against new sanctions for Iran at the U.N. and Turkey's bold anti-Israel stance in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident have put a spotlight on the nomination.

The administration might be wary of spending its limited political capital to push through the Ricciardone nomination to a floor debate in the Senate because it could open up a broader public discussion of Turkey policy the White House might not think is useful given the delicate diplomatic environment.

There are signs that the administration is working hard now behind the scenes to reevaluate its approach to Turkey. For example, the State Department is hosting a high-level meeting today on Turkey policy, led by Clinton and Policy Planning chief Anne Marie Slaughter and with the participation of Assistant Secretary Phil Gordon.

"The ultimate aim of [the meeting] is to assess in a free, think-tanky sort of way, are we moving in the right direction, are there other areas we can address?" a State Department official said, explaining that this one of multiple meeting being held to come up with "out-of-the-box thinking to try to assess where we need to go."

One GOP Senate aide lamented that the administration seemed tone deaf to Republican objections to Ricciardone.

"They're trying to get together to figure out their Turkey policy and this nomination shows they don't have one."

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