The National Security Council's top advisor on Iran and the Persian Gulf Puneet Talwar is expected to be nominated to become Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs, two US officials tell Al-Monitor, although a third official said the nomination announcement is not imminent.
Talwar did not respond to a query from the Back Channel Tuesday.
A former Professional Staff Member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee responsible for the Middle East under then Chairman Joseph Biden, and one of Biden’s closets foreign policy advisors, Talwar has served as the NSS senior director on Iran, Iraq and the Gulf states since the beginning of Obama’s first term, during which time Vice President Biden has served as the Obama administration’s point-man on Iraq.
Talwar has also been deeply engaged on US Iran policy and participated in the P5+1 negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program as a senior member of the U.S. negotiating team.
The State Department political military affairs chief job, currently headed by acting Assistant Secretary Tom Kelly since the departure of Andrew Shapiro, involves decisions on U.S. arms sales and security assistance issues. Talwar has long worked on the region that accounts for the lion’s share of US arms sales and military assistance, especially in recent years, one official noted.
It’s not entirely clear who might succeed Talwar as NSS senior director for Iran and the Gulf if the nomination proceeds. But sources say new US National Security Advisor Susan Rice has been a bit frustrated that several appointments were made by her predecessor Tom Donilon shortly before he left, and she would like to bring in some people who have more NSC experience.
Some sources hear the White House would like to bring former Bill Clinton NSC Middle East advisor Rob Malley to the NSC in some capacity, but others hear Secretary of State John Kerry is considering bringing him on as part of the team advising Middle East peace negotiations. He did not respond to a query.
Former Clinton envoy to Israel and Near East chief Martin Indyk may play a lead role in helping Kerry conduct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Al-Monitor first reported Sunday. The State Department said decisions on the envoy and negotiating team were still being worked out.
One official told Al-Monitor Tuesday the White House was a bit blindsided by the negotiator news, although the State Department has insisted that decisions on the envoy and negotiating team were still in the works and not final. Kerry met with Obama at the White House Monday following his return from his sixth trip to the Middle East during which he announced tentative agreement had been reached to resume Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
Kerry has been consulting with various U.S. Middle East experts informally, including former Obama White House Iran strategist Dennis Ross and former peace envoy and Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, current and former US officials said. Ross did not immediately respond to a query. Kerry has known Ross 'forever' and keeps in regular touch with Mitchell and much of that crowd of Middle East folks, but nothing formal, one person characterized the consultations.
In other appointment news, longtime Kerry aide William Danvers is expected to be named one of four Deputy Secretaries General (DSGs) at the Organization for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD) in Paris, taking the U.S. slot held by Richard Boucher, current and former U.S. officials say. Danvers, who came on at State as deputy chief of staff but left the post, has since been working on special assignments, including assisting UN envoy nominee Samantha Power with her confirmation and Congressional outreach. State Department executive secretary John Bass, a former US Ambassador to Georgia, has been serving as acting deputy chief of staff in the meantime. It's not clear if he'll stay on in the job permanently. The front office job usually goes to a political appointee, and Bass is a career foreign service officer, and is also serving as executive secretary.
Update: Danver is expected to be named an OECD Deputy Secretary General, not director general, as the post previously said.
(Photo: President Barack Obama is briefed by Puneet Talwar, Senior Director for Iraq, Iran and the Gulf States, in the Oval Office, Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011.)