Biden picks Arabic-speaking veteran diplomat to lead CIA

William Burns was involved in back-channel negotiations that set the stage for the 2015 deal to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
Monday 11/01/2021
A 2014 file photo shows then-Deputy Secretary of State William Burns testifying at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AFP)
A 2014 file photo shows then-Deputy Secretary of State William Burns testifying at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AFP)

WASHINGTON--An Arabic-speaking veteran diplomat who helped lead secret talks with Iran was picked Monday by US President-elect Joe Biden to lead the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

William Burns spent over three decades in the US foreign service, including a stint as ambassador to Russia from 2005-2008 and high-ranking jobs in the State Department.

“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 released by his transition team.

Burns had been considered a likely candidate to lead the State Department under Biden given his deep experience with Iran and the Middle East.

Prior to serving as deputy secretary of state, Burns worked as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs from 2001 to 2005, and ambassador to Jordan from 1998 to 2001.

Burns, who speaks Arabic, French and Russian, has also served as special assistant to the president and senior director for Near East and South Asian affairs at the White House.

He was involved in back-channel negotiations that set the stage for the 2015 deal to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

“The fact that we did it quietly or secretly caused a certain amount of controversy,” he said in a 2016 interview.

“But the reality is that after 35 years without sustained diplomatic contact between the United States and Iran, there was a huge amount of baggage, a lot of mistrust, and a lot of grievances.”

Burns holds a masters and doctoral degrees from Oxford University.

He retired from the foreign service in 2014 and is the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, an international affairs think-tank in the United States.