Joe Biden fills key Middle East positions at State Department

Hady Amr is at least sixth Arab American to join Biden administration

The White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021. U.S.  President Joe Biden signed a series of directives to combat climate change that he presented as a boost for U.S. employment, arguing that improvements in infrastructure and technology to curb global warming will add millions of jobs.Photographer: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg

The Bureau of Near East Affairs at the State Department announced three appointments on Thursday, with Hady Amr and Dan Benaim named as deputy assistant secretaries for Palestine and Israel, and the Gulf Region, respectively.

The bureau announced the appointments in a tweet two days after Antony Blinken was confirmed as secretary of Ssate.

Also announced was Asha Castleberry-Hernandez's appointment as senior adviser to the assistant secretary on Near Eastern Affairs.

“Their regional and policy expertise will play an important role in advancing America’s mission in the Middle East," the State Department tweeted.

Mr Amr, an Arab American who advised the Biden campaign during the transition, is intimately familiar with the Palestine-Israel situation and worked on it during the Obama administration. Between 2014 and 2017 he served as the US deputy special envoy for Palestinian-Israeli negotiations after joining the team in the summer of 2013.

Before that, he served in the Obama administration as deputy assistant administrator for the Middle East at the US Agency for International Development.

After leaving government, Mr Amr was a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, where he worked on a range of socioeconomic and geopolitical issues.

His appointment is another indication of the Biden administration's intention to refocus efforts on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

On Tuesday, the Biden team announced that it would seek to renew relations with the Palestinians and reverse decisions by the Trump administration to cut funding to the Palestinian Authority and close its diplomatic outposts.

Mr Benaim replaces Tim Lenderking in Arabian Gulf affairs while Mr Lenderking takes over as deputy assistant secretary for Iraq, Iran and regional multilateral affairs.

Mr Benaim was previously a policy speech writer and Middle East adviser to Mr Biden during his vice presidency until 2015. He also worked as a policy adviser to the White House, State Department and US Senate.

After leaving government, Mr Benaim became a senior fellow at the Centre for American Progress.

Ms Castleberry-Hernandez worked with the State Department at the US mission to the UN during the Obama administration and served as the Kuwait desk officer for international military affairs.

She also worked on the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve during the Obama administration.

Ms Castleberry-Hernandez is also a veteran who completed a 30-month posting in the Middle East.

The Biden team is trying to emphasise diversity in its appointments. Mr Amr is at least the sixth Arab American to join the administration, after Bechara Choucair was named White House vaccinations co-ordinator and Kelly Razzouk was named deputy chief of staff at the US Mission to the UN.

Mr Biden also appointed Reema Dodin as deputy director of the White House office of legislative affairs, Dana Shubat as senior legal affairs adviser and Maher Bitar as director for intelligence at the National Security Council.

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