Although hiring in the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs is on hold until the nominee to be assistant secretary, Jeffrey Feltman, is confirmed, several people are lined up for key positions.
Ronald Schlicher, a career Foreign Service officer who previously served as the consul general in Jerusalem, is expected to be named principal deputy assistant secretary of state, diplomatic and Washington Middle East hands say. The Brookings Institution's Tamara Cofman Wittes is a candidate to be the deputy assistant secretary who oversees Middle East democracy issues. The job, which was previously held by Liz Cheney and J. Scott Carpenter, has been fashioned to focus on "Arab reform." Wittes declined to comment, and Schlicher couldn't immediately be reached.
Feltman's nomination, the subject of a hold by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) seeking State Department action on a Libya compensation claim related matter, is expected to be resolved as early as next week, when Congress comes back from its July 4 recess. Neither he nor Levin's office would comment.
Because Brookings' director of Foreign Policy Studies, Carlos Pascual, has been nominated to be Obama's ambassador to Mexico, some shuffles are expected at the think tank. As previously reported, Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and current director of Brookings' Saban Center for Middle East Policy, is expected to succeed Pascual. Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst, is expected to be named director of the Saban Center. (He didn't respond to a query.)
Mary Carlin Yates, a senior Foreign Service officer who has been serving as the deputy to the commander for civil-military activities of U.S. Africa Command, has departed that job. A source close to the NSC says she has joined the NSC as a senior advisor on strategic planning. The White House did not immediately respond to a query.
Iraq Big Guns: Veep Biden unofficial Iraq envoy
When The Cable reported last week on the much-anticipated official announcement of Dennis Ross's move to the NSC, we noted that one influence for shifting the Iraq portfolio from Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the holdover war czar, to Puneet Talwar, the NSC's senior director for Iran, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf, was Talwar's former boss on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: Joseph Biden, now the vice president.
Administration sources tell us that Talwar wanted the portfolio and Biden intervened at the 11th hour on his behalf. Now, Newsweek reports that Biden himself has been handed the Iraq portfolio by President Barack Obama. "President Obama has asked Biden to take the lead role on Iraq as the U.S. begins its scheduled drawdown of combat troops, a move that comes as administration officials are expressing concerns about the uptick in violence and political instability in the region," the magazine reports. "Biden's role will be something of an unofficial envoy to Iraq, though he won't handle day-to-day dealings with officials on the ground. The goal is to 'raise the level' in hopes that Biden's stature encourages Iraqi officials to bridge their political differences."
One possible rationale for Biden being asked to take on the portfolio? The White House has taken some criticism, including from the military side, that it is not paying enough attention to Iraq issues in a crucial year.
We hear two names are in the running, neither of whom could immediately be reached: Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, and Jake Walles, currently serving as the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem.
Under secretary of economics:
Multiple Washington foreign-policy hands say Robert Hormats is in line to be nominated as the State Department's under secretary of economics, business, and agricultural affairs. Hormats, who has held a variety of State Department jobs in the past, is currently vice chairman of Goldman Sachs (International) and managing director of Goldman, Sachs & Co. He is also a member of the editorial board of Foreign Policy.
Former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns has joined the Cohen Group, a business consulting and government relations firm. Former Defense Secretary William Cohen made the announcement himself Monday night at a dinner in honor of the new Indian ambassador to Washington, saying Burns would be helping lead the group's new India practice. Burns, who has been teaching at the Harvard Kennedy School since retiring from the State Department in 2008, is also a member of the board of the Center for a New American Security, the plugged-in D.C. think tank. Burns has been speaking out in support of Obama's Iran policy at recent events and in television appearances. Burns will also become the director of the Aspen Strategy Group.