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Biden to nominate Tom Nides as ambassador to Israel; Ken Salazar, ‘Sully’ Sullenberger also get posts

In 2011, C.B. “Sully” Sullenberger III talks to reporters at the Carolina Aviation Museum in Charlotte in front of the plane he safely landed on the Hudson River after a dual engine failure two years earlier. (Chuck Burton/AP)

President Biden announced his first slate of political ambassadors Tuesday, selecting longtime Washington hands for key foreign postings.

Biden will nominate Thomas R. Nides, a former State Department official, to serve as the ambassador to Israel; Julie Smith, a former Biden national security adviser, as the ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; and Ken Salazar, the former secretary of the interior and senator from Colorado, as the ambassador to Mexico.

The Washington Post previously reported that the three were expected to be chosen for those spots.

Biden also will nominate C.B. “Sully” Sullenberger III, who safely landed a plane on the Hudson River after a dual engine failure in 2009, as the ambassador to the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization and Cynthia Ann Telles, a UCLA professor of psychiatry, to serve as ambassador to Costa Rica.

The announcement comes as Biden is wrapping up his first foreign trip, with stops at the Group of Seven meeting in the United Kingdom and meetings with NATO and the European Union in Brussels. The president will end his trip Wednesday with a meeting in Geneva with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a high-stakes encounter amid growing tensions between the two countries.

Throughout the trip, Biden has worked to strengthen the United States’ alliances and its standing in international institutions, declaring that “America is back.” The president’s first batch of political ambassadors and their deep foreign policy experience are part of his effort to demonstrate his administration’s commitment to reestablishing the country’s leadership role on the world stage, officials said.

If confirmed, Nides, a vice chairman at Morgan Stanley who served as deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration, will head to Israel at a time of major political upheaval. For the first time in more than a decade, Israel has a new prime minister after a governing coalition ousted Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving leader.

Smith is serving as a senior adviser to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and worked as a national security adviser to Biden when he was vice president. She would serve as the country’s envoy to NATO as the organization looks to take a more confrontational stance toward China, a landmark shift ushered in by Biden this week. She also would be tasked with rebuilding relationships with the group after President Donald Trump repeatedly threatened to withdraw the United States’ membership.

Salazar works as a partner at WilmerHale, and if confirmed he would head to Mexico amid ongoing issues at the U.S. border following a surge of migration at the start of Biden’s presidency. Vice President Harris has been tasked with working on the root causes of migration in the Northern Triangle region, and her first foreign trip included a stop in Mexico.

A number of other high-profile political ambassadorships are expected to be announced in the coming weeks and months, including former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel for Japan, R. Nicholas Burns, a former NATO ambassador, for China and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti for India, according to people familiar with the process who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. Cindy McCain, the widow of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), is expected to be named envoy to the World Food Program; Mark Gitenstein, a former Biden aide and close friend, is in line for ambassador to the European Union; David Cohen, a Comcast executive who hosted Biden’s first official 2020 presidential fundraising event, is expected to be named ambassador to Canada; and Denise Bauer, who led a women’s support network for Biden, is probably headed to France.

Many of the positions are finalized, but the nominees are still in the vetting and financial disclosure processes. The White House has also been slow to announce some of the political ambassador slots in part because of diversity concerns, the people said. Many of Biden’s longtime friends, allies and donors are White men, and the administration is working to ensure the political ambassadors reflect gender and racial diversity.

The majority of the approximately 190 postings are filled by career State Department employees, and Biden has also committed to a lower percentage of political ambassadors than previous administrations. Tuesday’s announcement included Biden’s second slate of career ambassadors: He will nominate Julie Chung for Sri Lanka, Sharon Cromer for Gambia, Troy Damian Fitrell for Guinea and Marc Ostfield for Paraguay.