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Jon Huntsman Reportedly Offered Post as U.S. Ambassador to Russia

Taking on one of the toughest jobs in diplomacy.

By and , a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
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Jon Huntsman, a former governor, ambassador and one-time Republican presidential candidate, has been offered the position of U.S. ambassador to Russia, Politico reported on Wednesday. Two administration sources told Politico Huntsman intends to accept the offer.

The pick, if true, is a bit surprising, since U.S. President Donald Trump has so far shown to favor loyalty over experience in filling certain positions. Huntsman was at times a critic of Trump during his campaign, though the former Utah governor endorsed Trump in April, 2016.

The White House refused to confirm the news when Foreign Policy reached out for comment.

Huntsman’s family company has operations in Russia but he has little expertise in U.S.-Russia diplomacy. However, Huntsman was ambassador to Singapore under George H.W. Bush — the youngest U.S. ambassador in over 100 years. More recently, he served as ambassador to China under Barack Obama. He currently chairs the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank that promotes transatlantic ties.

If he accepts, and gets Senate confirmation, Huntsman will succeed John Tefft, still the U.S. envoy in Moscow, who is widely regarded for his regional knowledge and experience. Prior to moving to Moscow, Tefft had worked in Lithuania, Georgia, and Ukraine.

Experts and former diplomats who spoke to FP didn’t consider Huntsman’s lack of deep Russia expertise a hindrance. “If true, it’s an excellent choice given his broad foreign policy expertise and strong leadership exhibited here at the Atlantic Council,” Alexander Vershbow, former U.S. ambassador to Russia who now works for the Atlantic Council, told FP

“My impression is that Huntsman is a seasoned statesman who would bring a lot of talent to the role,” Matthew Rojansky, director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, told FP. “That said, we are also fortunate to have John Tefft, one of our country’s absolutely top career diplomats now serving as ambassador, so we can have high confidence that the transition will be handled smoothly and professionally.”

Tefft was preceded by Michael McFaul, who caused something of a stir upon his arrival to Russia by meeting immediately with Russian opposition figures. On Twitter, McFaul, a prolific tweeter, reacted simply to news of Huntsman’s nomination, “I wish him well!”

Huntsman called on Trump to withdraw his candidacy for president in October 2016 after a tape emerged in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women. He’s since forged closer ties to the campaign, defending Trump’s controversial call with the Taiwanese leader in December that undermined decades of U.S. understanding with Beijing over the “One China” policy.

In recent weeks, sources close to Huntsman also speculated he was considering running for senate in Utah to replacing 82-year old Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Alternatively, he was bandied about as a possible deputy secretary of state. That position remains unfilled, after Trump squashed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s choice, Elliott Abrams, who had been critical of the real estate mogul during the campaign. (Or perhaps, as Abrams suspects, Trump simply confused him with another critic.)

Update: This article was updated to include comments from the White House and Alexander Vershbow.

Photo credit: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Concordia Summit

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer