With McFarland withdrawal, more delay in appointing a US ambassador to Singapore

(From left) US President Donald Trump's nominee for ambassador to Singapore K.T. McFarland, nominee for ambassador to Italy Lewis Eisenberg, nominee for ambassador to Britain Robert Wood "Woody" Johnson, nominee for ambassador to Canada Kelly Knight Craft and nominee for ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison testify at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on their nominations on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, on July 20, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON - Ms K.T. McFarland, a former deputy national security adviser, has asked for her nomination as Ambassador to Singapore to be withdrawn.

Ms McFarland has become the second ambassador-designate in a few days to drop out of a key post. Three days ago Dr Victor Cha, a Georgetown University professor and senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who was to be designated ambassador to South Korea, was dropped after he apparently disagreed with the White House's approach to the Korean peninsula.

Singapore is currently Asean chair. The US also does not have an Ambassador to Asean yet.

Ms McFarland's nomination ran into controversy last year when it emerged that she had not revealed all she knew about her former boss Michael Flynn's contacts with Russia's former Ambassador to Washington Sergey Kislyak.

Mr Flynn, one of US President Donald Trump's biggest supporters during his campaign, was the President's first National Security Adviser, but was fired after it emerged he had misled Vice-President Mike Pence regarding the same contact he had with Mr Kislyak, apparently to discuss the Obama administration's sanctions on Russia.

At the end of last year, since Ms McFarland's nomination was held up over the revelations, it was sent back to the White House as a matter of form.

The administration nominated her again weeks ago, even as Washington analysts saw her confirmation as a long shot given the animosity over the Russian issue that has dogged the Trump administration.

In a brief statement on Friday afternoon in Washington, President Trump said, "I am disappointed that K.T. McFarland has withdrawn from consideration to be Ambassador to Singapore.

" K.T. served my administration with distinction. Unfortunately, some Democrats chose to play politics rather than move forward with a qualified nominee for a critically important post."

Ms McFarland worked on former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's staff, as well as for former Secretary of Defence Caspar Weinberger during the Ronald Reagan administration. She was also a Fox News commentator on security issues.

" I wish K.T. the best as she uses her considerable wisdom and skill as a commentator to explain to the American people how to make American foreign policy great again," Mr Trump said in his statement.

She was known to have the ear of the President and was thought by some Washington insiders to be ambitious and essentially planning to serve out her Singapore assignment and return to Washington as National Security Adviser.

Ms McFarland's confirmation process dragged on for months. Her withdrawal does mean that rather than the stalemate continuing, the way is clear for another nomination as ambassador to Singapore which could proceed more quickly if the White House puts up a name soon.

There are big differences between the cases of Dr Victor Cha and Ms McFarland. Ms McFarland's withdrawal was not over policy, it was about her potential role in the Russia investigation, Dr Rafael Frankel, a Vice President at BowerGroup Asia said. "The Victor Cha case is more deeply concerning because of what he has publicly written about - the growing bellicosity of the Trump administration (on North Korea)," he told The Straits Times.

Still, the delay in nominating and confirming ambassadors to some key positions is seen as a drawback for the US, especially in Asia where it is dealing with tension on the Korean peninsula and the South China Sea.

In Washington circles no alternative names have emerged yet as potential nominees for the Singapore post. And the background check and confirmation process even normally would take several weeks or months.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.