Biden nominates longtime U.S. diplomat Burns to lead CIA

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden announces nominees and appointees to serve on his health and coronavirus response teams during a news conference at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden will tap a former career diplomat in William Burns to lead the CIA, his transition team said on Monday, as the Democrat races to put a national security team in place before his inauguration.

Over a 33-year career as a U.S. diplomat and eventually deputy secretary of state, the Russian, Arabic and French speaker honed specialties in Russia and the Middle East.

Burns worked as an ambassador to the United States’ old Cold War adversary from 2005 to 2008 and led secret talks that paved the way to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, under former Democratic President Barack Obama.

That background will be critical at the spy agency in a new Biden administration that has vowed to punish Russia if it is found responsible for a massive cyber breach affecting U.S. government agencies. The Kremlin has denied responsibility.

Biden, who served as vice president under Obama, has also said he would restore the Iran nuclear deal, which Republican President Donald Trump abandoned.

Burns, who is currently president of the international affairs think tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, will also help the Biden administration decide where it can cooperate with China and where to confront the rising Asian power.

“Bill Burns is an exemplary diplomat with decades of experience on the world stage keeping our people and our country safe and secure,” Biden said in a statement announcing his last major personnel appointment.

Biden, who promised to pick a team of tested officials ready on day one, is unlikely to have a full complement of permanent national security officials when he takes office. Biden’s transition was delayed by Trump contesting the Democrat’s November election victory.

Burns must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, where Biden’s fellow Democrats narrowly hold the majority. Biden has asked lawmakers to confirm his national security team as close to his Jan. 20 inauguration as possible.

Yet a move by congressional Democrats to seek Trump’s impeachment over a violent assault on the Capitol by his supporters could further delay action on the appointment.

Biden took months to make the CIA pick. Early contenders like former Central Intelligence Agency deputy director Michael Morell faced concerns about supporting the use of torture and drone strikes following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States by al Qaeda.

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