Long-time diplomat Barbara Leaf nominated as assistant secretary of state for Middle East

Leaf brings decades of experience in foreign service, speaks Arabic and is a proponent of diplomatic engagement

ABU DHABI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , OCT 25   – 2017 :-  Barbara Leaf , US Ambassador to the UAE during the interview at the USA stand in the Najah Education Fair held at ADNEC in Abu Dhabi. (Pawan Singh / The National) Story by Roberta
Powered by automated translation

Former US ambassador to the UAE and long-time diplomat Barbara Leaf was nominated on Thursday as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs.

Ms Leaf, who joined the administration in January as senior director for the Middle East at the National Security Council, will – if confirmed – be moving from the White House to the State Department.

The National reported on February 3 on the potential nomination.

Ms Leaf has extensive experience in the Middle East, having served as ambassador to the UAE from 2014 to 2018.

Before that, she served in several positions at the State Department, including deputy assistant secretary of state for the Arabian Peninsula, deputy assistant secretary for Iraq and the first director of the Office of Iranian Affairs.

A career diplomat, Ms Leaf served throughout the region for the past 25 years. She held posts in Tunis, Basra, Kuwait City, Cairo and Jerusalem. She speaks Arabic, French, Italian and Serbo-Croatian, according to the State Department.

Her policy views point to advocating robust US diplomacy in the region. As a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Ms Leaf co-authored a report that rebuked the Donald Trump administration for threatening to close the US embassy in Baghdad.

“The US administration is undermining the reform-minded Iraqi prime minister’s efforts against Iran-backed militias and risking Baghdad’s relationship with Washington,” the report said.

After the signing of the Abraham Accords in September 2020, Ms Leaf encouraged the Biden administration to follow through by pursuing a broader settlement between the Palestinians and Israelis.

On Iran, Ms Leaf is a proponent of diplomatic engagement and issued a warning about regional military escalation that could spiral out of control.

At the height of Iran’s destabilising activity in June 2019, Ms Leaf told NPR the US should pursue backchannel diplomacy with Tehran through Switzerland or Oman to make sure that the tension did not ripple outwards and put US interests in Iraq and beyond at risk.

Once confirmed, Ms Leaf will replace David Schenker and will be reporting to Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, whose nomination is also awaiting confirmation.

In her new role, Ms Leaf will use her lengthy foreign service experience to supervise the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and a number of deputies who oversee regional portfolios.

Ms Leaf, sources close to her say, is keen on using her resume and knowledge of the Foreign Service to repair some of the damage to the State Department that occurred during the Trump administration.

Besides Ms Leaf, Mr Biden nominated Karen Donfried as assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, Mary Phee as assistant secretary of state for African affairs and Michele Sison as assistant secretary of state for international organisation affairs.

He also nominated Gentry O Smith as assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, Anne A Witkowsky as assistant secretary of state for conflict and stabilisation operations and co-ordinator for reconstruction and stabilisation, and Marcia Bernicat as director general of the Foreign Service and the chair of the Board of the Foreign Service.