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Biden nominates top national security staffer as ASEAN ambassador

Yohannes Abraham was also a top Obama administration official.

Yohannes Abraham, left, walks with presidential counselor Steve Ricchetti near the White House last year. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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President Biden announced Friday that he is nominating one of his top national security staffers to serve as ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, known as ASEAN.

Biden will nominate Yohannes Abraham, who serves as chief of staff and executive secretary at the National Security Council, for the Indonesia-based post. He made the announcement Friday afternoon during the second day of a two-day summit with ASEAN leaders in Washington.

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The association, which was created in 1967 and is headquartered in Jakarta, includes 10 countries in Southeast Asia: Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Myanmar, Brunei and Laos. Indonesia is the world’s fourth-most populous country.

Ambassadors from ASEAN countries to the United States welcomed Abraham’s nomination Friday, noting the U.S. has not had a confirmed ambassador to the organization in more than five years.

“We have been waiting for a nominee, and we’re very pleased that he’s being nominated,” said Jose Manuel Romualdez, the Philippine ambassador to the U.S. “Now we’re hoping that he gets confirmed as soon as possible.”

Romualdez said ASEAN will look to work with Abraham on a range of issues including climate change, maritime issues and economic cooperation. “He will do a great job and we will be very happy to work with him on the many issues surrounding the ASEAN region in our relationship with the United States,” he said.

Abraham, who worked as a top aide during the Barack Obama administration, served as the executive director of Biden’s transition before joining the White House.

Abraham received bipartisan praise for his leadership of the transition in the face of harsh attacks from allies of outgoing President Donald Trump, who insisted falsely that Trump was the election’s real winner.

Biden’s victory was not officially declared until three weeks after Election Day, delaying and complicating the Biden team’s efforts to gain access to government documents and officials and prepare for the new administration.

During Obama’s presidency, Abraham worked as a senior adviser on the National Economic Council; chief of staff in the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs; and as a top aide to Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama. After Obama’s second term ended, he joined the Obama Foundation as a senior adviser.

Abraham’s colleagues praised him as a hard worker and team player, who has been instrumental in building the National Security Council and managing Biden’s foreign travel. They also noted he has earned the trust of Biden and Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff, pointing to his regular travels with the president, particularly on Biden’s weekend retreats to Camp David.

Abraham, they said, has also shown a deep interest in the countries of the Indo-Pacific region, who took a leadership role in planning the ASEAN summit and Biden’s trip to Asia next week.

If confirmed by the Senate, Abraham will head to Indonesia at a time when engagement with Asia, particularly countering China, remains a top priority for Biden. Much of Biden’s presidency has been consumed by other foreign policy crises, particularly Russia’s ongoing invasion in Ukraine.

Biden warns China not to help Russia in Ukraine

But Biden has framed much of his presidency around the idea that the United States is engaged in a “battle between democracy and autocracy,” and he has vowed to rebuild alliances around the world to bolster democracies and a rules-based order. Given China’s growing military and economic power, Biden has put a particular focus on diplomacy in Asia.

Next week, Biden will make his first trip to Asia as president, visiting Japan and South Korea. During the trip, the president is expected to attend the second summit of the Quad, an alliance made up of Australia, Japan, India and the United States.

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