Candidate for US ambassador to Estonia undergoing confirmation process

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U.S. Embassy's Fourth of July reception in Tallinn. June 16, 2022.
U.S. Embassy's Fourth of July reception in Tallinn. June 16, 2022. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The Biden administration has found a new candidate for ambassador to Estonia, the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn confirmed Friday. The U.S. hasn't had an ambassador present in Estonia since the resignation of James D. Melville, Jr. in June 2018.

"The selection and confirmation process for the next U.S. ambassador is underway," U.S. Embassy spokesperson Mark Naylor told ERR on Friday. "A candidate has been found, and they are currently under consideration by the White House."

The U.S. has not had an ambassador present in Estonia since summer 2018, when Melville announced at the end of June that he was resigning, citing statements made at the time by then-President Donald Trump regarding NATO and the EU.

The embassy spokesperson emphasized on Thursday that despite the lack of an ambassador, U.S.-Estonian relations are thriving.

"At a time when we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations this summer, the U.S. and Estonia's ties are stronger than ever before," Naylor said.

In the absence of an ambassador, Charge d'Affaires Brian Roraff, the ranking U.S. diplomat currently in Estonia, has continued to serve a dual role as both deputy chief of mission and de facto acting ambassador.

"When we have both an ambassador and a deputy chief of mission, the deputy is often more focused on the day-to-day management of the embassy and the execution of policy priorities," Roraff said in an interview with ERR News last month. "The ambassador is the face and voice of the embassy, as well as our director and chief advocate with Washington in the policymaking process. In the absence of an ambassador, as charge d'affaires, I've had both of these important roles."

Third time's the charm?

According to U.S. custom, the president of the United States often appoints political allies or donors who supported them during their election campaign as ambassadors. It is common for politically appointed ambassadors to resign when a new president takes office, giving the new administration the opportunity to nominate their own candidates.

Nonetheless, career diplomats like Melville, who had served in the U.S. Foreign Service for more than 30 years, can likewise be appointed ambassador.

Considering that an incoming president has some 1,000 positions to fill in their administration, including at the State Department, it's to be expected that the process of appointing and confirming new ambassadors would not be a quick one, U.S. political expert Andreas Kaju told ERR last May.

President Trump had appointed supporter William Ellison Grayson ambassador to Estonia, who was confirmed to the position by the U.S. Senate in July 2020, but Grayson never made it to Estonia due to COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions and the subsequent election of Joe Biden as the next president.

In 2017, Trump had previously nominated former Rear Admiral Edward Masso, the son of an Estonian war refugee, to the position, but thereafter retracted his nomination in May 2018.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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