What's behind delay for new religious freedom ambassador?

'Special Report' All-Star panel weighs in


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," May 22, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I look forward to nominating our next ambassador at large for international religious freedom to help lead these efforts, and we're moving ahead with our new strategy to partner more closely with religious leaders and faith communities as we carry out our foreign policy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This position has been vacant for eight months and the president himself said he wanted to see someone nominated. How long does it take to nominate somebody?

PSAKI: It remains a priority. There are certainly plans to. And in the meantime senior officials will continue to raise these issues.

ROBERT SEIPLE, FORMER INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AMBASSADOR: There are people in the world who are willing to day for their faith. But we also know that there are people in the world unfortunately who are willing to kill for their religion. And we neglect this issue in the geopolitical calculus at our considerable peril.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: President Obama has not nominated a new ambassador at large for international religious freedom. He said he was going to back at the prayer breakfast in February. He has yet to do it. Today a list of new appointments, some ambassadors, some other appointments, the ambassador to the People's Republic of Bangladesh, the ambassador to the republic of Moldova, and a member of the president's council on fitness, sports, and nutrition, but not the ambassador at large for international religious freedom. We are back with the panel. A.B., big deal? Priority?

A.B. STODDARD, THE HILL: I don't mean to diminish this issue, the importance of this issue in any way, and I agree with the former ambassador said, that it is part of our geopolitical calculation, certainly it is woven into our national security and defense policy.

But President Obama, clearly this administration cannot make this a priority right now. President Obama has talked many times as president he can certainly walk and chew gum. And right now they cannot. They are going to be engulfed by this VA scandal from here forward for a very long time. They upended our entire healthcare system and got to the point where you couldn't even sign up for a doctor even if you didn't like them. They are facing off crises all over the globe that they are not able to successfully manage or contain right now, including trying to stop Putin from invading another country, a nuclear Iran. There is, you know, Assad from using more chemical weapons on his people. This is not something that is --

BAIER: It seems like this would be a layup. I mean, why not appoint somebody?

STODDARD: I'm sure that the confrontation and criticism that comes with the confirmation process must be a factor. They don't want to have that conversation right now. But I don't know how they can even floss or shower with what's going on with what they are mishandling and not succeeding at fixing.

BAIER: Charles?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: They could comb their hair. This is pretty easy. You nominate somebody and they will be confirmed. I don't think it makes a dime's worth of difference because we generally have somebody in these offices, ambassadors at large, and they're generally doing nothing. And in this case he they will go around the world holding seminars and pretending that the persecution of the Muslims, Jews, and Christians is about equal in the world and we all have to understand each other.

We simply will not state the fact, which is that the overwhelming percentage of the suppression that's happening in the world is suppressing, persecuting Jews and Christians in places, particularly in the Islamic world. That's not something Americans will say because you have to be polite. The real question if you want to go after this, why did we join the U.N., the farcical U.N. Human Rights Council that spends all its time in denouncing Israel and Christian nations and completely whitewashing and ignoring the persecution of Christians and Jews? Our presence on that is and of itself a scandal, and I would start before that before I nominated an ambassador in this rather empty role.

BAIER: Not surprisingly the former person who held that position disagrees about the priority of it, and here is what else he said.


SEIPLE: It sends bad signals to the world. First of all, it sends bad signals inside the State Department. It says to everybody in the State Department this is not something we have to take seriously. Everybody has got too much work to do anyway, so if the secretary of state or the president is not moving to fill this position in an expeditious manner, then folks draw from that that this is not very high up on the priority list.


BAIER: Nina?

NINA EASTON, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: You know, I agree with that. This is a -- this may just be a symbolic, mostly symbolic position, but this is a sub-crisis on the foreign policy or on the foreign stage. The number of religious persecutions is on the rise even in this Internet society. As Charles said, Jews and Christians, there is one survey form a secular agency that says 80 percent of religious persecution right now is against Christians. You see people executed in North Korea for owning a bible. You see Coptic Christians in Egypt, their churches being burned, them being killed. You see this all around. And here we are, the cradle of religious tolerance. We have founded a democracy founded very much on the notion of religious tolerance.

To me, it's a void of leadership. It's a potential for us to take more of a leadership role on the stage and to provide support for those who are being persecuted.

BAIER: Quickly, I just want to get around about the marine being held in Mexico, the U.S. Marine Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi. He has been in jail, Mexican jail for about six weeks now. Charles, the story, we have been following it, is pretty surreal.

KRAUTHAMMER: The fact that our secretary of state is in Mexico and he doesn't even raise it, and we have our spokesman saying well, it's -- he is subject to Mexican law. We are the world's super power. Under Kennedy, let's say, or Johnson or Nixon or anybody, there would be a carrier off the coast of Mexico. There would be a drone overhead and we would cut off all trade until this guy is released.

BAIER: A.B., he is still faces charges of illegal gun possession in Mexico. He told them that these guns were in his truck.

STODDARD: He took a wrong turn. When he pulled up and realized where he had gone, he said I don't want to be here and I have guns. He is not a criminal. It's hard to imagine our government is not doing more for this person who served our country over and over again.

BAIER: Greta Van Susteren has been covering this extensively, and she is going to continue to do so, as will we. That's it for the panel.

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