State Department union may oppose Obama ambassador nominees

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In an unusual move, the American Foreign Service Association, which represents more than 16,000 career diplomats, is expected to weigh next week whether to publicly oppose some of President Obama’s controversial recent ambassadorial nominations.

AFSA President Bob Silverman, at a news conference Tuesday to discuss the association’s new guidelines for selecting ambassadors, said he would ask the 28-member board  whether it wanted to take a formal position on three Obama mega-bundler nominees:  Colleen Bell (for Hungary), George Tsunis (Norway) and Noah Mamet (Argentina.) Bell and Tsunis were approved by the committee this month, though Tsunis got through on a party-line, 12 to 6 vote.

All three nominees came under fire at their Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings in recent weeks after displaying a lack of knowledge about the countries to which they had been nominated or U.S. interests in those countries.

AFSA has not often taken public stands on nominations. The one example cited — the nomination of hotelier Larry Lawrence to be ambassador to Switzerland — was approved despite AFSA opposition. (Lawrence, Loop Fans may recall,  died in Switzerland and was buried in Arlington Cemetery as a World War II Merchant Marine vet. His body was later disinterred when it was found he never served.) And we’re told there also may have been instances of behind-the-scenes opposition to some nominees as well.

Silverman didn’t promise that AFSA would act on any of the nominations at the March 5 board meeting, but said, “I want to consult with the AFSA board” . . .  we do have concerns . . .   stay tuned.”  And Charles Ray, formerly  ambassador to  Cambodia and Zimbabwe, noted that there may be a feeling that AFSA might not “want to get into the middle of a dogfight” while it’s in progress.

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