US Senate confirms Barbara Leaf to lead State Department’s Middle East bureau

She has been serving as the National Security Council’s senior director for the Middle East

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Barbara Leaf, the White House’s choice to head the US State Department’s Middle East bureau, has been confirmed by the US Senate, more than a year after she was first nominated.

The Senate confirmed Ms Leaf as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs by a vote of 54 to 44 on Wednesday.

Ms Leaf has been serving as the National Security Council’s senior director for the Middle East.

She was the US ambassador to the UAE from 2014 to 2018.

“Congratulations to Ambassador Barbara Leaf on her Senate confirmation to be our next Assistant Secretary. She is an amazing diplomat and formidable leader and we can’t wait to get her on board,” the US State Department Near Eastern Affairs tweeted.

Ms Leaf also served as the deputy assistant secretary of state for the Arabian Peninsula, deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq, and the State Department’s first director of the Office of Iranian affairs.

Career diplomat

The National first reported that The Biden administration would nominate Ms Leaf on February 3, 2021. She will replace David Schenker.

A career diplomat, Ms Leaf served throughout the region in 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.

As the new point person at the State Department for the Middle East, Ms Leaf is expected to push for a more robust US diplomacy in the region. As a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, she 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.

The State Department has remained without a top Middle East representative while Ms Leaf’s nomination was held up in the Senate.

Several congressional staffers confirmed to The National last October that Ted Cruz, a Republican senator from Texas, had placed a hold on the nomination.

Updated: June 13, 2023, 12:06 PM