Geneva, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) - An empty desk in Geneva is receiving more than normal attention: that of the US ambassador, whose unwieldy title is US Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Other International Organizations. The post has been empty since January 2009 when Warren Tichenor left. Tichenor, a Texan and George W Bush appointment, may not have been a household name, but the new US ambassador could well quickly become one, thanks to sharper interest in how the US will work with other countries on several issues, many of them through international organizations based in Geneva.
This is the era of the Obama administration, with its promise of new relationships, and the period of Hillary Clinton at the helm of the US State Department, re-booting the Start talks with her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Geneva in March 2009. Obama told a group of ambassadors in Washington Wednesday 29 July that “I came into office with a strong commitment to renew American diplomacy, and to start a new era of engagement with the world. This must be a moment when we engage on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect, so that we can build new partnerships for progress.”
One name being bandied about for the Geneva ambassador’s job is that of Obama fundraiser Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe. Le Temps wrote some weeks ago that she will be named, basing the information on “sources close” to President Obama, and IP Watch, an intellectual property industry newsletter, named her as the likely candidate in a 29 July article.
But several sources have told GenevaLunch over the past month that this is speculation, although some call it a reasonable guess.
“The White House has yet to announce its nominee for the post of Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva. Until it does, all speculation as to who that nominee will be remains just that: speculation,” Michael Parmly, chief communications officer at the Mission confirmed to GenevaLunch Thursday afternoon 30 July.
There are a handful of intriguing details that link Chamberlain Donahoe to Geneva or that suggest her interests parallel the work of the US Mission here, such as Facebook, where she listed as a fan of the web site of the US Mission in Geneva.
Chamberlain Donahoe might appear to be a likely candidate, but she is not a shoo-in even if Obama does nominate her. Once a name is announced, several steps remain before the person can move into the job.
The process for naming a new ambassador and the timing
The president announces his nominations, a process that with Barack Obama began immediately after he took office in January 2009 and that will continue for some months. Nominations tend to come in batches. They are reviewed by the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, which then makes recommendations to the full Senate, and it votes on each appointment. The process usually takes two to three months. In some cases, for example the new ambassador to India, Timothy Roemer, the ambassador-designate steps into the job briefly before formally presenting his credentials. The US reportedly wanted him on the job when Hillary Clinton visited India 18-21 July.
The new ambassador to Switzerland, Donald Beyer, was, typically approved several weeks after his nomination, 24 July.
Most presidential nominations are accepted, but there have been some notable exceptions, such as John Bolton, who served as a “recess appointment” ambassador to the United Nations for 16 months until December 2006. The Senate refused twice to confirm his appointment.
Geneva-based negotiations high on State Department priorities list
The new ambassador could well play a critical role for the US, which assumes its new role as a member of the Human Rights Council when the council reconvenes 14 September. The US will be watched closely in Geneva for signals about how much attitudes have truly changed under the new president.
Hillary Clinton laid out US priorities in coming months during a speech to the Foreign Affairs Council in Washington 15 July. All of these involve bilateral relations but also multilateral talks and negotiations through several international organizations based in Geneva: