Changes at US National Security Council as Bolton shuffles Middle East staff

Three key US officials who handle regional politics are leaving their positions

National Security Advisor John Bolton waits for a meeting between Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House on July 2, 2018 in Washington, DC. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski
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Three months into the job, National Security Adviser John Bolton is making changes to the staff at the National Security Council as key officials who work on the Middle East are expected to leave their positions.

The National has learned that both the senior director for Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon at the White House National Security Council (NSC) Joel Rayburn, and top Middle East adviser Mike Bell are leaving imminently.

Mr Rayburn is expected to move to the State Department where he will be nominated for a high-level position dealing with the Middle East, sources said. Bob Greenway, a former defence official, will be taking over Mr Rayburn's position.

It is unclear if Mr Bell will stay in government. Among those who left is also NSC's Director for Lebanon James Sindle.

These staff members all remained from the tenure of former National Security Adviser General HR McMaster who left the position in March and will be joining the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University as a visiting fellow this September.

"We don't comment on personnel issues," a spokesperson at the National Security Council told The National.

Staff changes have happened routinely at the NSC throughout different administrations, especially for non-political appointees who move around government agencies.


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Mr Bolton also appointed Mira Ricardel as his deputy and Fred Feitz as his new chief of staff in April.

At the State Department, Secretary Mike Pompeo is hoping to speed up nominations in key posts related to the Middle East. David Schenker is awaiting a Senate confirmation vote to be the next Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, replacing David Satterfield.

Mr Satterfield will be nominated to be the next US ambassador to Ankara, according to Turkish media reports.

However, Phillip Kosnett, the US chargé d’affaires in Turkey, told reporters this week that “there had been lots of rumours, nothing is official until the White House makes an announcement”.

Paula Dobriansky, a former George W Bush official, was in April expected to be nominated for the position of undersecretary of state for political affairs. But no such nomination was made official yet.

There has also been no replacement for the United States Special Envoy for Syria Michael Ratney who left the position in April.