Kerry staff shifts as State appointments gather pace

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One of John Kerry’s most experienced advisors has had to step back from his job as deputy chief of staff, but is staying on for now at the State Department, officials tell the Back Channel.

William Danvers, former Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff director and a former Clinton and Obama administration national security official, had some medical concerns, but is apparently cleared to ease back into work. His role appears to have shifted however from deputy chief of staff to other assignments, officials said. Danvers declined to comment.

Danvers accompanied Kerry to State from the foreign relations committee, joined by other Kerry Senate aides, including chief of staff David Wade, policy planning chief David McKean, senior Middle East advisor Frank Lowenstein, and counselor Heather Higginbottom. Danvers, a former Hill staffer, served in the Clinton administration NSC and State Department and in Obama’s first term CIA and Pentagon specializing in legislative affairs. At State, Danvers took the former office of Jake Sullivan, who as Hillary Clinton’s policy planning chief and deputy chief of staff, played a key role as a “hinge” between the Secretary and policy officials in Foggy Bottom. (Sullivan now serves as national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden.)

Department officials seeking to connect into Secretary Kerry’s office have described the process as more difficult. Kerry hit the ground running and has traveled almost nonstop since being confirmed, taking a hands-on approach to US diplomacy. But with State still somewhat short-staffed and a less hands-on management style, Kerry may be a harder figure to try to link into the rest of the building than his predecessor, some State Department veterans observed.

Fortunately, after a slow transition and several top posts languishing vacant, nominations for key State posts finally seem to be picking up and gathering pace. The White House in the past two weeks announced the nominations of former spokeswoman Victoria Nuland to be Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, White House AfPak advisor Douglas Lute for Nato envoy, Daniel Russel for Assistant Secretary of State for Asia, as well as James Dobbins for US Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Back Channel previously reported that the Obama administration is expected to soon nominate Egypt envoy Anne Patterson for Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, and Middle East envoy David Hale for ambassador to Lebanon, to be succeeded by Lowenstein, already working out of Hale’s office, helping Kerry on the peace process. Other anticipated nominations: Human Rights Watch’s Tom Malinowski for Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor (DRL), and Harvard’s Sarah Sewall for State Counterterrorism Coordinator or Pol-Mil.

One new post to fill: Syria envoy. US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford plans to step down this summer, according to several US officials, the Back Channel first reported Wednesday.

Update: Post updated May 31st.

(Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters).