The Cable

Transition Rumint: names, names, names

In the fraught game of musical chairs in the days leading up to the Obama administration taking office, whispers of who will do what persist even as nailing them all down remains ever tricky. Adding to the complexity of the endeavor, some of the positions to be filled are themselves in flux, as Obama transition ...

In the fraught game of musical chairs in the days leading up to the Obama administration taking office, whispers of who will do what persist even as nailing them all down remains ever tricky. Adding to the complexity of the endeavor, some of the positions to be filled are themselves in flux, as Obama transition figures strategize how to best organize agencies, departments, positions, and priorities. Here’s the latest rundown of what we’re hearing:

National Security Council

Sources tell The Cable that as former NSC hand and leading Obama campaign nonproliferation advisor Ivo Daalder is being discussed as a likely nominee to be U.S. ambassador to NATO, two key names have emerged as leading contenders for the NSC senior director on nonproliferation, both of whom have held iterations of the job before: former Clinton-era NSC nonproliferation hand Gary Samore, now with the Council on Foreign Relations, and Dan Poneman, his predecessor at the NSC during the George H.W. Bush and early Clinton eras, who is now with the Scowcroft Group. Sources tell The Cable that of these two, Samore’s name is perhaps more oft-heard, but he is also mentioned as being in the mix for U.S. special envoy to North Korea.

"We still don’t know who will be the key person on nuclear proliferation," says one Washington nonproliferation hand. "The names talked about Samore and Poneman held similar positions in the NSC" in the past. (Samore did not return calls. Poneman was traveling).

Adding to the complexity is talk of the possible creation of a new White House "nuclear terrorism czar"/WMD coordinator, who would report to national security advisor James L. Jones. The position was recommended in 2007 congressional legislation and by the Silverman-Robb WMD Commission. A leading contender for that asyetnonexistent position is Graham Allison, a former special advisor to Reagan’s defense secretary and author of Essence of Decision and Nuclear Terrorism. Allison is the longtime director of Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

One source close to the transition said the problem with the position, as it was recommended in the 2007 bill, is that it called for the nominee to the post to undergo congressional confirmation, a hurdle not usually required for NSC posts (conceivably, the source said, the position could differ from how it was laid out in the legislation).

"There have been arguments made … that the nuclear terrorism job was so important it should not be diluted with other proliferation responsibilities," the Washington nonproliferation hand said. "I just don’t know how or whether the issue has been resolved."

Staying: The New York Times reports that Bush’s "war czar" Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute will stay on the job, reporting to national security advisor Jones instead of, as he did under Bush, directly to the president. "General Jones’s decision to keep General Lute who he has worked with in the past on Iraq-related issues reflects his belief that there should be some continuity in military policy, even if the new administration is pursuing different Iraq and Afghanistan policies," the Times wrote.

State Department

Sources say of a few names in the mix for Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs including those of Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Egypt and Israel, and David Hale, a DAS in NEA, former U.S. ambassador to Jordan and a former special advisor to Madeleine Albright, that "Kurtzer has been the most mentioned name for quite a long time … and his name now seems to be back at the top of the list," according to one department hand. Former NEA DAS and A/S Europe Beth Jones, now with APCO worldwide, has told associates that she has not been approached by the Obama transition about the NEA job. (She didn’t respond to a query).

Jeffrey Feltman, the current acting assistant secretary for NEA and former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, is expected to become principal deputy assistant secretary after the new assistant secretary is appointed, at least for some time. "He is very widely respected and liked within the NEA Bureau and the wider State Department," says the department hand. "He’s a real professional who is great for morale here."

Sources continue to offer varying interpretations of what the role of former U.S. Mideast peace envoy Dennis Ross will be. "I am now hearing [Ross]’s title will be ‘special advisor,’ not ‘special envoy,’" said one figure close to the Obama transition Wednesday, "and that he’ll have under him special envoys, for Israel-Palestine, Iran, for other things." Concerns about whether that would interfere in the A/S NEA’s job may be overblown, the source suggested. "Most assistant secretaries don’t want to have to be swamped to deal with all the problems" of every regional hotspot.

And while Hillary Clinton‘s answers to Senate Foreign Relations Committee incoming chairman Sen. John Kerry indicated final decisions on U.S. envoys to South Asia and Iran have not yet been made, Obama transition figures have made known that former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Richard Holbrooke is in line for the South Asia envoy job, sources say.

Department of Homeland Security

Former NSC official Rand Beers, who advised the Obama campaign on terrorism and intelligence issues and is now with the National Security Network, has been appointed counselor to incoming DHS chief Janet Napolitano.

Western Hemisphere

Sources telegraph a bunch of names in the mix for key USG Latin America/Western hemisphere posts, to be further untangled in coming posts. Key among them: Dan Restrepo, Obama campaign senior lead Latin America foreign policy advisor now with the Center for American Progress, former Clinton-era NSC and State Department inter-American affairs hand Arturo Valenzuela, Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations, Nelson Cunningham, Frank Sanchez, Fulton Armstrong (a former CIA Cuba hand who raised John Bolton‘s ire, now advising Sen. Christopher Dodd), mentioned as a possible NSC senior director for Latin America, and Robert Gelbard, a former assistant secretary of state and U.S. ambassador to Indonesia who’s served as a member of the formal Obama transition team.

USAID

Among those in the mix for top USAID jobs, we’ve heard Gayle Smith, former Clinton-era Africa hand and advisor to the Obama campaign who is now with the Center for American Progress. Smith is also mentioned as a possible assistant secretary of state for African affairs. Helene Gayle, current president and CEO of CARE and a former CDC official, is in the running for a top job as well.

Staying: The Washington Post reports that Amb. Mark Dybul, Bush’s global AIDS coordinator, will stay in the job for now as head of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPWAR).

United Nations

On tap for tomorrow: nomination hearings for U.S. ambassador to the U.N. designate Susan Rice, who was a key Obama campaign and transition foreign policy advisor. You can read Rice’s opening statement here.

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