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US envoys to Kuwait and Qatar confirmed, dozens more wait

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

The Senate confirmed US ambassadors to Kuwait and Qatar on Thursday, as top Democrats fumed that lawmakers are slow-walking dozens more of President Barack Obama's nominations.

Career diplomats Douglas Silliman and Dana Smith were confirmed as the new envoys to Kuwait and Qatar, respectively.

Smith's confirmation process took a relatively quick two months, but Silliman's lasted seven months, a length of time that has become more the rule than the exception in a thoroughly gridlocked Senate.

"I really appreciate it today, we get two ambassadors," Senate Majority leader Harry Reid sneered on the Senate floor. "We've only got 27 more to go."

Secretary of State John Kerry has taken exception to the delays.

Just after touching down Thursday in Kabul, where he aims to ease a crisis over Afghanistan's disputed presidential election, he issued a "personal plea" to his former Senate colleagues to come together and stop hobbling American diplomacy.

"The world demands our engagement more than ever before. But we can't lead if we are not present," Kerry said.

America's top diplomat said there were now 43 ambassador nominations pending.

"That means we're going without our strongest voice on the ground every day in more than 25 percent of the world," Kerry said.

The Obama administration has pressed for the envoys' rapid confirmation to more comprehensively address flashpoints like the Middle East or eastern Ukraine, and contend with what Kerry called "rogue countries" threatening nuclear proliferation.

With Republicans furious over what they see as Obama's executive overreach, and highly controversial changes to Senate rules rammed through by Democratic leadership making it easier to break Republican filibusters, they have thrown up roadblocks in each confirmation process.

According to Kerry, 58 State Department nominees are awaiting confirmation, including 37 who have already been approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Those 37 have waited an average of 245 days -- eight months -- for confirmation, the State Department said.

Republicans have demanded individual votes on each nominee, instead of employing Kerry's suggestion of confirming the non-controversial diplomatic picks "en bloc," as some military nominations are handled.

Many of the nominees are non-controversial career diplomats, but they are caught up in the partisan standoff infecting Washington.

"World events demand that the Senate rise above political partisanship and confirm these nominees," Kerry said.

The Senate last month confirmed new US ambassadors to Egypt and Iraq.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140710/us-envoys-kuwait-and-qatar-confirmed-dozens-more-wait