Appointments: Econ, Syria, NEA

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Who will oversee US Syria diplomacy, if Robert Ford, as we first reported, is tapped to succeed Anne Patterson as US Ambassador to Cairo?

US officials told us, as far as they know, the decision on that has not yet been finalized. Ford, in any case, “will do Syria for a few more months,” as he prepares to go to Egypt, one official, speaking not for attribution, said Tuesday.

“I think serious thought should be given to moving the position out of the Department and to the field, along with 'team Syria' currently cloistered in NEA”–the State Department Near East Affairs bureau, one former senior U.S. official told us. “A difference can be made in Turkey and Jordan with the opposition and in interacting with partners. Hard to do anything useful in Washington from inside the NEA bureaucracy.”

Syria needs a US government point of contact, who can “manage the whole inter-agency Syria process,” another current official said. That, in addition to “a seasoned diplomat who speaks Arabic and knows the region and could engage the Syrians.”

Meantime, US officials told the Back Channel that former Clinton White House Middle East advisor Rob Malley has been offered the job of National Security Staff Senior Director for Persian Gulf Affairs, but as yet has not agreed to take it. (The Back Channel previously reported that the current NSS Senior Director for Iran/Iraq and the Persian Gulf Puneet Talwar may be nominated to become Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs.)

One possibility is that Malley may instead become a senior advisor on Syria to Secretary of State John Kerry, working out of the front office, a US diplomatic source told the Back Channel. Malley did not respond to numerous queries. He is said to be very close with Frank Lowenstein, Kerry’s deputy Middle East envoy.

Meantime, the Back Channel has learned of several other diplomatic appointments in the works:

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs (NEA) Elizabeth Jones may move to become the deputy to US Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) James Dobbins, after her successor Patterson is in place, officials, speaking not for attribution, said. Secretary of State John Kerry last week named deputy SRAP James Warlick, a former US ambassador to Bulgaria, the next US envoy to the OSCE Minsk Group.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for NEA Elizabeth Dibble will become Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in London, US officials tell us. (She didn’t respond to a query.)

US Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein is expected to become the next PDAS in the NEA bureau, officials said. Feierstein, who met with Yemen’s president in Sanaa on Tuesday, the State Department said, is expected to serve a few more months there before returning to Washington.

US Ambassador to France Charles Rivkin is expected to be nominated Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, succeeding Robert Hormats, officials tell the Back Channel. “It’s a done deal,” one official said Tuesday, adding the nomination is expected to be announced the first week of September.

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White House’s John Brennan in Bulgaria amid bus bombing probe


White House counter terrorism advisor John Brennan has arrived in Bulgaria for consultations with Bulgarian officials about the investigation into the July 18th Burgas bus bombing, the US envoy to Bulgaria said Monday.

Brennan will meet with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov among others on a two-day visit, US Ambassador James Warlick said on Twitter Monday.

Bulgarian authorities have released few details on their investigation into the July 18th attack, which killed seven people, including five Israeli tourists, their Bulgarian bus driver, and the suspected bomber. The attack targeted a bus of young Israeli tourists who had arrived in the Black Sea resort town’s airport on a charter flight.

An autopsy performed on the suspected  suicide bomber determined that he “had a white face, light eyes, and very thick brown hair,” Galina Mileva, a Bulgarian official involved in the post-mortem, told Bulgarian media Saturday, the AFP reported. Officials earlier released airport video surveillance of the suspected bomber who appears to fit that description, as seen in the above video. They believe his backpack contained  3KG of TNT that caused the explosion, although it wasn’t clear if the bomb was detonated remotely.

DNA from the suspected bomber has been sent to the US and Interpol to try to determine his identity, reports said. Bulgarian authorities have determined he was not a Bulgarian citizen, saying they believe he had been in the country from four to seven days.

Unconfirmed local media reports Monday said the authorities are investigating whether the suspected suicide bomber may have had one or more accomplices, including a female companion with whom, according to one report, he stayed at a Varna hotel, the AFP reported. Continue reading