Joe Biden to tap more former Barack Obama officials for top national security jobs – Times of India

WASHINGTON: President-elect Joe Biden is turning to more veterans of the Obama-Biden administration to fill senior positions on his national security team, including two former officials who played crucial roles in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, an agreement the Biden administration will seek to restore.
Biden plans to name as deputy national security adviser Jon Finer, a former chief of staff to Secretary of State John Kerry, and to nominate as deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman, who was Kerry’s lead negotiator during the Iran talks.
In a clear sign that he intends to take a tough posture against President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Biden plans to nominate Victoria Nuland, a retired career diplomat and former top State Department official for Russia affairs under Kerry, as undersecretary of state for political affairs. Nuland, a fierce critic of Putin, is despised by the Kremlin, and her confirmation is sure to anger the Russian president as Biden plans to both firmly confront and seek to find common ground with Moscow.
The appointments further illustrate Biden’s desire to surround himself with experienced and trusted former officials with whom he worked closely during the Obama years, even as some Democrats and foreign policy analysts complain that he has yet to infuse his national security team with fresh and more diverse faces bearing unconventional ideas.
The upcoming appointments were reported earlier Tuesday by Politico. People familiar with the transition confirmed the personnel plans, but Biden transition officials say they plan to unveil a fuller national security team soon, one reflecting greater diversity.
The picks also underscore the weight that Biden places on his stated goal of restoring the nuclear deal with Iran, negotiated by the Obama administration along with several other major nations. Under the deal, Tehran accepted strict limits on its nuclear program for many years in exchange for sanctions relief. After President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal and placed a growing load of sanctions on Iran’s economy, Tehran accelerated its program. It is now within a few months of producing enough highly enriched uranium to develop a nuclear bomb, although assembling a deliverable warhead would take many months longer.
In choosing Sherman as deputy secretary, Biden is turning to a longtime diplomat and Democratic operative who has deep experience dealing with the Iranians.
As undersecretary for political affairs during President Barack Obama’s second term, Sherman was the driven, detail-oriented architect of the 2015 Iran deal, and the central figure in negotiating its terms. While she openly acknowledged its shortcomings, including the fact that limits on Iranian production of uranium would be lifted in 2030, she argued that the accord was the best way to forestall Iran’s drive to a bomb — and that Trump’s abandonment of the deal was deeply misguided.
If formally nominated, she is likely to be a lightning rod for Republicans, who will argue that she helped route the Iran deal around the Senate by working to make the accord an executive agreement rather than a treaty. If confirmed, she will have the difficult task of putting the deal back together — and negotiating a tougher follow-on arrangement that limits Iran’s missile development.
Sherman, 71, is also deeply familiar with another state sure to consume large amounts of the Biden administration’s attention: North Korea.
During the Clinton administration, Sherman was counselor to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and together they traveled to North Korea to try to strike a missile deal in the last days of the Clinton administration. The effort failed, and Albright and Sherman were criticized by Republicans when they were pictured attending one of North Korea’s mass games with Kim Jong Il, the supreme leader at the time and the father of the current leader, Kim Jong Un.
Finer, 44, also became immersed in Iran during his tenure as chief of staff to Kerry, who devoted much of his time to the nuclear talks with Iran. Finer was glued to Kerry’s side for countless hours of meetings with Iranian, European and other officials as they devised ways to contain Tehran’s nuclear program.
A former Washington Post foreign and national reporter who embedded with U.S. military forces in Iraq before shifting to a career in government, Finer is known for his intense work ethic and sometimes acerbic humor. He joined the Obama White House as a fellow in 2009 and became a speechwriter to Biden and a senior adviser to Antony Blinken, Biden’s pick for secretary of state, when Blinken was Obama’s deputy national security adviser.
While serving as Kerry’s chief of staff, Finer also held the job of director of policy planning, the State Department post tasked with long-range strategic thought. A Rhodes scholar, Finer founded a group to assist Iraqi refugees while he was a student at Yale Law School.
Nuland, 59, who retired from the State Department shortly after Trump’s election, would take the job Sherman held in the Obama years: undersecretary for political affairs. A longtime diplomat with deep experience in Europe and Russia who is known as a Russia hawk, she argued vociferously in 2016 that the United States should respond to Russia’s interference in the presidential election with sanctions directed at Putin, including revelations of where he allegedly stores his money abroad.
The daughter of Orthodox Jews who escaped Stalin’s rule, she is a firm believer that the Russian leader understands only tough pushback. “I didn’t mind attempting a reset” with Russia, she said after leaving the State Department, “but it had to be a reset with no blinders on.”
Nuland has ties in both parties — she was once a senior aide to Vice President Dick Cheney — but became a more public figure in 2014, when Russian agents tapped a phone conversation she was having with the U.S. ambassador in Ukraine at a time of upheaval in Kyiv.
They then made audio of the conversation public — an early warning sign of what they would do two years later in making public emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee. In the audiotapes, Nuland, who is known for blunt speech, used an epithet about the European Union, which she thought was balking in its role as an election observer. For a while she thought she might be out of a job, until she ran into Obama at a reception and he uttered the same epithet, in relation to Putin.
Now she will return at a moment when Biden is vowing to retaliate for Russia’s hacking of U.S. government and corporate networks — a bigger version of the past cyberactivity that she has argued must be met with major responses.
Eric Edelman, a former diplomat and senior Pentagon official under President George W. Bush for whom Nuland has worked, praised her as a superb diplomat and public servant who would help to restore faith in the State Department among Foreign Service officers whose morale has plunged during the Trump era.
Edelman acknowledged that her return to government would not come as welcome news to Putin, but said that Russian officials respected her deep understanding of their country.
“The Russians may not like dealing with her, but they know she speaks their language — both figuratively and literally,” he said.
People familiar with the transition said Biden was also finalizing decisions about other senior National Security Council positions.
At the White House, he plans to name Amanda Sloat as the top National Security Council official for European affairs, officials said. Now a fellow at the Brookings Institution, Sloat served under Kerry as a deputy assistant secretary for southern Europe and eastern Mediterranean affairs and previously worked at the NSC and in Congress.
Biden is likely to choose Brett McGurk, the Obama administration’s envoy for the global coalition against the Islamic State, for a senior NSC job managing the Middle East and North Africa. Kurt Campbell, who served as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, is a leading candidate for a top NSC Asia job.
In an appointment likely to please progressives impatient to see more of their own within Biden’s national security team, the NSC’s senior director for strategic planning will be Sasha Baker, currently Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s top foreign policy adviser.
Johannes Abraham, executive director of the Biden transition and a former top aide to Obama’s senior adviser, Valerie Jarrett, will serve as NSC chief of staff.

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