Political News

Former top State Department official is Biden's leading contender to be US ambassador to China

Posted February 17, 2021 1:03 p.m. EST

— Nicholas Burns, a former US ambassador and senior State Department official, is the leading contender for US ambassador to China, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.

The Biden administration wants to fill the role with someone who has extensive diplomatic experience and Burns meets that criteria, the sources said.

Among those being considered for other ambassador posts are former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for Japan; former Biden national security adviser Julie Smith for NATO; former Rep. Jane Harman for France; and former Ambassador Mark Gitenstein for the European Union.

Bloomberg was first to report that Burns is a leading contender for the China role.

But the Biden team is still expected to be weeks away from making any announcements on ambassador picks, sources said. They intend to announce the rest of the senior State Department positions before moving onto ambassadors, said a senior US diplomat and a source familiar with the discussions.

Last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden had not been presented with a memo to make any decisions about ambassadorships. She also said that she is not sure if the Biden administration will name any ambassadors by March.

Until decisions are made on the political ambassadors, the career ambassadors cannot move into place.

"The State Department needs the White House to tell them which ambassadorships will be filled by politicals and which ones State can fill with career people," the senior US diplomat told CNN. "And until the White House personnel office sends that list over to Secretary Blinken, there's no possibility of moving up on names."

CNN has reached out to the State Department and White House for comment.

This story is breaking and will be updated.

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