The Cable

Russia downgraded, Daalder to Nato?

The McCain/Palin campaign may have prided itself on being tough on Moscow, but the incoming Obama administration has perhaps delivered the crueler blow. Sources suggest that the White House-in-waiting is close to deciding to officially downgrade Russia from meriting a senior director slot at the National Security Council. Instead, sources suggest, it will merit only ...

The McCain/Palin campaign may have prided itself on being tough on Moscow, but the incoming Obama administration has perhaps delivered the crueler blow. Sources suggest that the White House-in-waiting is close to deciding to officially downgrade Russia from meriting a senior director slot at the National Security Council. Instead, sources suggest, it will merit only a director role under the senior director for Europe.

The alleged change–which would bring the NSC structure into line with the State and Defense departments, where Russia is under Europe–affects key advisors negotiating for roles in the new Obama administration. Among them, the Obama campaign’s senior lead advisor on Russia/Eurasia matters and the lead on the democracy sub-group, Michael McFaul, whose future role is still under discussion, and that of a number of Russia/Eurasia hands. McFaul wouldn’t discuss reports that he is now being considered for a senior State Department job.

The latest we hear on the wider transatlantic appointment front: Philip Gordon, a Clinton-era NSC official now with the Brookings Institution who served as the Obama campaign’s senior lead for the advisory team on Europe, is likely to be nominated to become assistant secretary of state for Europe, and not, as earlier reported, NSC senior director for Europe. (He didn’t respond to a query). "Phil is exceptionally incisive at thinking through all the angles on complex and diplomatic issues, so he would be great," in either the State or NSC role, said one associate on background. "But having an ambassador rank and diplomatic status (which he would get as the State Department assistant secretary), and being out there working those issues, almost in the way Richard Haass has done in the past, makes more sense" than the long hours and constant inter-agency coordination involved in the NSC job. Among possible deputies and NSC Europe figures discussed are Jeremy Shapiro, Gordon’s fellow Brookings Europe hand and co-author.

Another former Clinton-era NSC official at Brookings, Ivo Daalder, once discussed as an obvious choice to become NSC senior director on nonproliferation and who served as the campaign’s senior lead advisor on that issue, is now said by two sources close to the transition to be under consideration as a possible U.S. ambassador to NATO.

Although the current ambassador (permanent representative to NATO), Kurt Volker, is a career foreign service officer, not a Bush political appointee, and was only sworn into the post in July, sources close to the transition say the Obama people may want to put a more senior person in that key role as they move to elevate the transatlantic relationship amid growing concern over NATO troop levels in Afghanistan. Volker is also said to be a possible victim perhaps of being perceived as having risen through the ranks under the wing of Daniel Fried, the outgoing assistant secretary of state for Europe. It would be unfortunate if Volker "is being punished for having risen through the ranks under eight years of a Republican Administration," one Democratic foreign policy advisor said. "Volker is a first rate Foreign Service Officer and a genuine rising star."

Daalder said he couldn’t comment. An Obama transition press official did not immediately respond to a query.

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