Rubio: Is it Qatar, Qatar or Qatar?

 

Before Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) launched into a series of questions about the Taliban Five, he needed a little assist from the nominee to be the U.S. ambassador to Qatar.

Exactly how do you pronounce the country hosting the released prisoners?

“OK, well, how would I say it? Help me,” Rubio said to Dana Smith, a career Foreign Service officer.

Smith first offered him the Arabic way, then an American way. (See video above.) The correct pronunciation of Qatar could come in handy during presidential debates in the 2016 race, so Rubio was wise to get the articulation down early.

(AP Photo/Molly Riley) (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

Smith was a late addition to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee nomination hearing, ostensibly because lawmakers wanted to ask about the May 31 Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap, and because if there is going to be a change in ambassadors, it’s probably an important time to get that moving.

Smith assured Rubio that when she gets to Qatar, monitoring the five Guantanamo Bay detainees who were traded for Bergdahl will be at the “very top of my list of priorities.”

“And we will be assessing continuously every day — every morning when I wake up, every night when I go to sleep — to reassess whether these people pose any threat whatsoever to our national security,” she said.

Rubio pressed on, asking about the precedent the prisoner exchange sets. Smith said she wasn’t qualified to address that. He asked whether Americans abroad are now at greater risk. Smith said the security of diplomats is something to be concerned about always. Which led Rubio to reference Benghazi and the terrorist attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission there. He asked Smith about security at the U.S. Embassy in Qatar.

“It’s a constant give and take; it’s a constant conversation,” she said. “And I think it’s probably best to leave it at that.”

Later, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) asked Smith whether she’d read the “memorandum of understanding” the United States signed with Qatar about the specific do’s and don’ts of the prisoners’ security. She had read it Monday; members of Congress it seems got it later. Johnson wondered aloud whether her security clearance was “higher than that of a U.S. senator?”

“I can’t answer that question. I don’t know what your security clearance is,” Smith said. But she assured him she’d be “delighted” to consult with him “as closely and regularly as you like.”

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.

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