The Cable

Obama Appoints Latin America Hand to Key State Department Post

President Barack Obama has tapped a trusted Latin America hand as the State Department’s next under secretary for political affairs, a powerful position in the Foggy Bottom hierarchy that oversees regional bureaus around the world.

U.S. State Department Counselor Thomas Shannon (C) arrives to visit the border post with Guatemala, in Corinto, 350 km north of Tegucigalpa, on July 23, 2014. The Corinto border post is the entry point to Honduras of the Hondurans deported from Mexico. AFP PHOTO/STR        (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. State Department Counselor Thomas Shannon (C) arrives to visit the border post with Guatemala, in Corinto, 350 km north of Tegucigalpa, on July 23, 2014. The Corinto border post is the entry point to Honduras of the Hondurans deported from Mexico. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama has tapped a trusted Latin America hand as the State Department’s next under secretary for political affairs, a powerful position in the Foggy Bottom hierarchy that oversees regional bureaus around the world.

If confirmed by the Senate, Tom Shannon, a 31-year career diplomat who has served as the department’s counselor since 2013, will fill the vacancy left by Wendy Sherman who also served as the chief U.S. negotiator on the Iran nuclear talks. The new coordinator for ensuring that Iran complies with the deal is Stephen Mull, the former U.S. ambassador to Poland.

“The United States has major priorities to pursue in every corner of the globe, and I will be counting on Tom for his advice and for the full exercise of his diplomatic skills to advance American interests and values,” said Secretary of State John Kerry in a statement.

Over the years, Shannon has cultivated particularly strong diplomatic relationships in Brazil, where he served as ambassador from 2010 to 2013. He was most recently credited with smoothing over disagreements between the U.S. and Venezuela ahead of the Summit of Americas in April — a furious bit of last-minute diplomacy that allowed the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement to carry the day.

Shannon’s appointment comes as a relief to the American Foreign Service Association, which has bemoaned the rise of political appointees in top State Department positions following the departure of Bill Burns, a career foreign service officer who served as deputy secretary of state.

Though widely respected by past and current officials in both parties, Shannon could face difficulties in the Senate thanks to Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who has pledged to block all  State Department appointees due to his displeasure with the Iran nuclear deal.

Mull, whose appointment was announced on Thursday, will be tasked with coordinating sanctions implementation on the Iran deal as well as monitoring compliance issues with Tehran.

Sherman, who absorbed an almost unprecedented degree of scrutiny on Capitol Hill due to her involvement in the Iran talks, leaves next month.

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