On Friday, the White House announced the retirement of Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, a giant in the diplomatic world and a key architect of the nuclear negotiations with Iran and six world powers.
Burns, who had already twice delayed his retirement, has agreed to stay on until October, which will afford the administration more time to eek out a potential deal with Tehran with one of its most trusted diplomats at the helm. Still, the outcome of the talks is far from certain as significant gaps remain between the two sides on the dismantling of Iran's nuclear facilities, especially over how long a final deal will remain in effect.
In announcing Burns' retirement, President Barack Obama lauded his legacy at Foggy Bottom. "Since I met Bill in Moscow in 2005, I have admired his skill and precision," he said. "I have relied on him for candid advice and sensitive diplomatic missions."
Burns' key role in nurturing the sensitive diplomatic talks between Washington and Iran was exposed in November in two lengthy tick-tock stories by Al Monitor and the Associated Press. For several months, Burns had engaged in secret, high-level, face-to-face talks with senior Iranian officials, which preceded the historic interim nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers in November. The main points of that deal, which involved the easing of sanctions on Iran in exchange for a reduction on uranium enrichment, were fleshed out during secret negotiations in the Middle Eastern nation of Oman.
The White House did not announce a replacement for Burns, the second-ranking official at the department who spent 32 years in the Foreign Service, serving under both Republican and Democratic presidents. In a lengthy statement, Secretary of State John Kerry praised Burns' service. "This guy is the real deal," said Kerry. "Bill is a statesman cut from the same cloth, caliber, and contribution as George Kennan and Chip Bohlen, and he has more than earned his place on a very short list of American diplomatic legends." Kerry also said one of his first actions as secretary-designate was to convince Burns to delay his long-planned retirement. In June of last year, Burns was honored as Diplomat of the Year by Foreign Policy.