Kerry urges Senate to approve dozens of ambassadorial nominees

By Chang Jae-soon

WASHINGTON, July 9 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged the Senate on Wednesday to immediately approve dozens of ambassadorial nominations pending for up to more than eight months, saying such vacancies would "send a dangerous message to allies and adversaries alike about America's engagement."

"The United States continues to operate without a complete diplomatic toolbox to exert our leadership and advance our security and economic interests across the globe, because a broken Senate confirmation process has left us without permanent ambassadors in 40 countries," Kerry said in an article contributed to the Politico magazine.

Mark Lippert, chief of staff to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who has been named the new ambassador to South Korea, is one of the pending nominations. His nomination passed through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in an oral vote on June 24, but it is unclear whether final approval would come.

"Who are these diplomats? Fifty-three State Department nominees are pending before the Senate. Thirty-seven of them have been approved by the Foreign Relations Committee and could be confirmed immediately with a simple vote," Kerry said. "The majority of the nominees, 35 in all, are apolitical career diplomats, and none of them are controversial."

Kerry said the Senate has traditionally confirmed military nominees "quickly and en bloc" and should do the same with career diplomats if the U.S. wants to play a strong role in the world.

He emphasized that the absence of top envoys to many countries in the world could send the wrong message.

"Vacancies in so many world capitals send a dangerous message to allies and adversaries alike about America's engagement," he said. "This perception makes it much more difficult to do the nonpartisan work at the heart of U.S. foreign policy -- defending the security of our nation, promoting our values and helping our businesses compete to create American jobs back home."

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the Senate can "voice vote" noncontroversial nominees.

"These are officials who have served their country as foreign service officers for decades, many of them. There's nothing controversial about them," she said. "They can voice-vote them through. And many of them receive approval of 93-to-1 or 97-to-1 anyway."

Another option is to expedite approval for career employees as the Senate does with military nominees, she said.

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