Top State Department official Steinberg leaves, replaced by Middle East expert

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that the new nominee to assume the post of deputy secretary of state, William J. Burns, would be the first career diplomat elevated directly to deputy secretary of state since the job was created in 1972. Walter J. Stoessel Jr., a career diplomat, became deputy secretary of state in 1982. This version has been corrected.

March 30, 2011

The State Department’s No. 2 diplomat, Jim Steinberg, is stepping down and will be replaced by a top Foreign Service officer with years of experience in Middle East affairs, officials said Wednesday.

Steinberg will return to academia, becoming dean of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, officials said. While highly regarded, he was not considered part of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s inner circle and had been rumored for months to be leaving.

President Obama intends to nominate William J. Burns to replace Steinberg, according to a letter to employees from Clinton. Burns, an Arabic speaker who served as ambassador to Jordan and assistant secretary for Near East affairs, has played a key role in Iran and Middle East policy.

Burns is undersecretary for political affairs, the department’s third-ranking official.

Burns has also been ambassador to Russia and is author of a book on U.S. policy toward Egypt.

Clinton said Steinberg had been particularly influential in formulating the Obama administration’s Asia policy, which was focused on dealing with China’s rising influence. Steinberg also frequently represented the department at White House meetings.

Steinberg became a prominent Democratic foreign policy figure while serving as deputy national security adviser to President Bill Clinton.

Steinberg “has been an invaluable friend and colleague — a calm head during crises, a voice of reason and experience during policy debates, and always a consistent advocate for the women and men of the State Department and USAID,” Clinton wrote.

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