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Top US diplomat for Middle East to retire

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones decided to retire

Gulf News

WASHINGTON: The top US diplomat for the Middle East has told colleagues that he has decided to retire, three US officials said on Tuesday, the latest senior US diplomat to leave the Trump administration.

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones has extensive experience in the Middle East, having previously served as US ambassador to Iraq and Jordan and as deputy chief of mission in Cairo.

Jones, 57, told colleagues the decision was his own and that he had not been pushed out or asked to leave the department.

“This is his own decision ... There’s not been a falling out,” said one US official who spoke on condition that he not be identified. “There’s no story here, except another senior government official with real competence is leaving.”

Jones’ case is different from those of two career foreign service officers, former undersecretaries of state Patrick Kennedy, the department’s top management official, and Thomas Countryman, its top arms control officer, who had risen to politically appointed jobs and were asked to leave in January.

The decision to accept their resignations was entirely within President Donald Trump’s rights, and there is usually turnover in such politically appointed jobs. But it constituted an abrupt departure for the two.

Former State Department counsellor Kristie Kenney also left in February, further shrinking the senior ranks of the agency.

Jones was elevated to serve as acting assistant secretary of state responsible for the Middle East and had neither been offered the job on a permanent basis nor told that he would not get it, said the US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

This official said Jones was not asked to leave and wanted to make his plans known so there would not be speculation that he had been forced out.

Career diplomats with deep regional experience are typically chosen to run the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. Officials who fit that profile include Robert “Steve” Beecroft, US ambassador to Egypt; David Hale, US ambassador to Pakistan; and Douglas Silliman, US ambassador to Iraq.

A State Department spokesman had no immediate comment on Jones’ planned retirement.

— Reuters