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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 28 January 2021

US ELECTIONS

Bill Burns: Joe Biden nominates career diplomat to head CIA

Mr Burns served as ambassador to Russia, is fluent in Arabic and Russian, and speaks French

US president-elect Joe Biden on Monday nominated distinguished diplomat William Burns to head of the CIA, bringing in a senior negotiator who served in both Russia and the Middle East to head the agency.

Mr Burns, 64, is a career diplomat who has served under successive US Republican and Democratic presidents from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. He brings 33 years of diplomatic experience to the CIA, an unprecedented resume in the history of the agency.

He brings in a vast knowledge of the Middle East, having been ambassador in the region, intimately involved with the Iran negotiations since 2006 and as the former assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs. He is also fluent in Russian and also speaks Arabic and French.

Among key positions that Mr Burns held at the State Department were deputy secretary of state (2011-2014), under-secretary of political affairs (2008-2011), ambassador to Russia (2005-2008), ambassador to Jordan (1998-2001) and assistant-secretary for near east affairs (2001-2005).

In a statement, Mr Biden hailed Ambassador Burns’ record as “a consummate professional full of integrity who will bring the facts and independence that our national security demands.”

Mr Biden listed cyberattacks emanating from Moscow, the challenge China poses and the threat “faced from terrorists and other non-state actors” as key challenges that Mr Burns is equipped to handle.

He shares my profound belief that intelligence must be apolitical and that the dedicated intelligence professionals serving our nation deserve our gratitude and respect,” Mr Biden, who takes office next week, said in a statement.

His nomination is being met by high praise from both sides of the aisle in Washington, suggesting that he will have a smooth confirmation in the Senate.

Two other contenders for the post, Michael Morell and David Cohen, praised Mr Burns’ nomination.

“His command of the issues, his deep respect for intelligence, and his care for people” will make him successful in the role Mr Morell said on Twitter.

Former diplomat Alberto Fernandez, who is conservative-leaning and worked with Mr Burns in Jordan and at the State Department, called the nomination “a superb choice.”

“He is a man of the highest integrity and ability,” Mr Fernandez said on Twitter.

It is the last high-profile nomination awaited from Mr Biden before he takes office on January 20.

Mr Burns’ nomination is another indication of Mr Biden’s cohesive foreign policy team, and one that increases the chances of negotiations with Iran.

The nominee worked closely with incoming national security advisor Jake Sullivan in conducting the secret negotiating channel with Iran in 2011 that led to the signing of the nuclear deal in 2015.

Outgoing US President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, eliciting harsh criticism from Mr Burns and Mr Sullivan in a piece they co-authored for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace where the CIA nominee is president.

"Contacts with the Iranians are not a reward for bad behaviour and we should have no illusions that they will engage productively on all our concerns,” Mr Burns and Mr Sullivan wrote.

"But diplomacy is the best way to test intentions and define the realm of the possible, repair the damage our unilateral turn has inflicted on our international partnerships, and invest in more effective coercion if and when it's needed to focus minds in Tehran," they said.

Updated: January 12, 2021 09:39 AM

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