Feb 24, 2021 - World

Barbara Leaf to shift from National Security Council to State Department

Leaf with then-Secretary of State Kerry in the UAE in 2015. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AFP via Getty

The newly minted senior director for the Middle East at the National Security Council, Barbara Leaf, is now expected to be nominated as assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, four sources familiar with the issue tell me.

Behind the scenes: The reasons for the swift job switch aren't clear, but both the White House and Blinken support her appointment in the new role.

  • Blinken wants to fill the regional assistant secretary posts with career foreign service officers, and Leaf served at the department for 25 years, including as ambassador to the UAE, before retiring in 2018.

Why it matters: The assistant secretary for Near East affairs is the most senior U.S. diplomat on the Middle East portfolio.

  • Leaf is expected to handle the administration's efforts to strengthen and broaden the normalization process between Israel and the Arab world.

Worth noting: Leaf speaks Arabic and has years of experience in the Middle East, though most of it comes on issues relating to Iraq and the Gulf.

  • Like other senior Biden administration officials dealing with the Middle East, she has less experience on issues like the Levant and Israel-Palestine.
  • The White House and the State Department declined to comment but didn’t deny the story.
Go deeper