The Cable

Names: Countryman confirmed to lead State’s ISN bureau

The Senate confirmed Tom Countryman as assistant secretary of state for international security and non-proliferation (ISN) on Monday evening, officially ending a two-year vacancy that had been filled by acting assistant secretary Vann Van Diepen. Countryman, a career diplomat with tours in Yugoslavia and Egypt, was previously principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of ...

The Senate confirmed Tom Countryman as assistant secretary of state for international security and non-proliferation (ISN) on Monday evening, officially ending a two-year vacancy that had been filled by acting assistant secretary Vann Van Diepen.

Countryman, a career diplomat with tours in Yugoslavia and Egypt, was previously principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Political and Military Affairs but moved over to the European bureau late last year, at the personal request of former Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg, to give added attention to the Balkans. During the Clinton administration, he worked in the State Department’s counterterrorism office, advised U.S Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright on Middle Eastern affairs, and then served as  the National Security Council’s director for Near East and South Asian affairs.

The ISN bureau covers aspects of nuclear energy, conventional counterproliferation, nonproliferation, and export control issues. It falls under the "T" office, run by Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher, who is back at work full time and doing great after undergoing cancer surgery late last year.

Van Diepen has been in charge of ISN for over two years, but was never nominated to take on the position permanently. He was deemed un-confirmable due to lingering GOP complaints regarding his role in crafting a controversial 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear program.

"The big question is why did it take so long to find a permanent leader [for ISN]," one State Department source told The Cable, explaining that Countryman represents steady leadership for a bureau that had suffered somewhat from the uncertainty of not having someone at the helm for a long time.

Inside the State Department, Countryman is seen as an able manager who knows how to navigate the bureaucracy and get things done. He’s not a nonproliferation specialist by any means, but insiders believe his stature and skill can compensate for his lack of subject matter expertise.

Nothing is set in stone, but the expectation is that Van Diepen will return to his position as a deputy assistant secretary, a slot that was being filled temporarily by Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Ann Ganzer. Van Diepen will join the two other deputy assistant secretaries in ISN, Elliot Kang and former Tauscher chief of staff Simon Limage.

The Senate also confirmed Monday John A. Heffern to be ambassador to Armenia. No word yet on the nominations of Robert Ford for Syria, Frank Ricciardone for Turkey, or Norm Eisen for the Czech Republic, all of whom are serving under recess appointments that expire at the end of this year.

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