Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns, a career Foreign Service officer who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia and Jordan, is retiring in October after more than three decades as a diplomat.
President Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry offered high praise for the man who has served under both Democratic and Republican administrations, and who most recently helped lead back-channel discussions with Iran over its nuclear program.
“Since I met Bill in Moscow in 2005, I have admired his skill and precision. Since I took office, I have relied on him for candid advice and sensitive diplomatic missions — he has been a skilled advisor, consummate diplomat, and inspiration to generations of public servants,” Obama said in a statement.
Kerry said Burns is on “the short list of American diplomatic legends.”
“Whenever I am thinking about future generations of Foreign Service officers, I tell people we need to build a system that builds the next Bill Burns,” Kerry said.
Burns, who joined the Foreign Service in 1982 and holds the rare distinction of being only the second career diplomat to rise to deputy secretary, had planned to retire after Obama’s first term, but Kerry urged him to stay on to continue his negotiation efforts with Iran and to help him transition.
After Kerry had been on the job a year, Burns again planned to step down, but Obama personally asked him over lunch to stay on until fall 2014.
Kerry, describing Burns as a “diplomat’s diplomat” said he’ll continue to seek Burns’s counsel after he is retired.
Burns became ambassador to Jordan in 1998 under President Bill Clinton — a post he held when King Hussein died and his son King Abdullah II took over. He then became ambassador to Russia in 2005 under President George W. Bush. He transitioned from that post to undersecretary of state for political affairs at the end of the Bush administration, a position he held through most of Obama’s first term.
He became deputy secretary of state in 2011.