Foreign Policy Blogs

Up and Out with the Burnses

On Friday the State Department announced that Nicholas Burns, Undersecretary for Political Affairs, will be retiring from the number 3 post in the Department. Burns said he was leaving because it is “time for me to meet my obligations to my wife and three daughters, and it's time to pursue other ventures outside the government.”

Click below to watch Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's farewell remarks.

Burns’ departure also brought kind words from President Bush and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos (also scheduled to retire at the end of his term). After 27 years of service, Burns is the highest ranking career diplomat in the foreign service.

The State Department announced Burns’ replacementWilliam Burns Ambassador to Russia up until today when the President recalled him from the Moscow embassy (Nicholas and William are of no relation).

An editorial in the Middle East Times calls Burns’ departure a “big loss” for the Bush administration, “coming at a time when the president hopes to shift the Middle East peace talks into high gear…

“Burns’ departure will deprive the administration of an experienced diplomat, one who understood the Middle East better than his bosses. In fact, Burns, who speaks Arabic, began his career in North Africa and the Middle East, first as an intern at the U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott, Mauritania, then vice consul and staff assistant to the ambassador in Cairo, (1983-1985), and then political officer at the American Consulate General in Jerusalem from 1985 to 1987. In this position, he coordinated U.S. economic assistance to the Palestinian population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem…”

The editorial continues: “…In selecting William Burns to replace Nicolas Burns, Bush and his secretary of State demonstrated the president's commitment in trying to extract a peaceful solution in the Middle East before he leaves office exactly a year from this Monday.”

While some are hopeful about William's appointment for the prospects of peace in the Middle East, others are weary that Nicholas’ departure will short circuit on ongoing nuclear negotiations with India. The Associated Press reports in an article titled “Diplomat's Departure Muddles Nuke Deal:”

“…The departure of the State Department's No. 3 official adds uncertainty to a U.S. nuclear deal with India that is already in deep trouble.

…The deal would allow the United States to send nuclear fuel and technology to India, which has been cut off from international atomic markets because of its refusal to sign nonproliferation accords or accept their inspection regimes and its testing of nuclear weapons.

Although most major opposition in Congress has been countered, the deal still faces tough questions in India. The government has set up a committee to examine the pact, which Indian critics say could cap the country's nuclear weapons program and would allow the United States to dictate Indian foreign policy…”

Yet the Times of India reports that President Bush expects Nicholas Burns will “continue to serve in an advisory capacity as the United States continues to make progress on the historic civilian nuclear agreement with India.”

Burns will be no slouch up until he leaves his post in March. The Agence France Presse reports that Burns will accompany Secretary Rice for key talks next week with her counterparts from Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany in Berlin to discuss the new sanctions on Iran.



Melinda Brouwer

Melinda Brower holds a Masters degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She received her bachelor's degree in Political Science and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received a graduate diploma in International Relations from the University of Chile during her tenure as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She has worked on Capitol Hill, at the State Department, for Foreign Policy magazine and the American Academy of Diplomacy. She presently works for an internationally focused non-profit research organization in Washington, DC.