Bush Asks Burns to Leave U.S. Embassy

MTJohn Beyrle
U.S. Ambassador William Burns is leaving Moscow after a three-year stint for a promotion to the No. 3 spot in the U.S. State Department, where he will be in charge of the country's strategy on Iran.

The most likely candidate to replace him, John Beyrle, is an old Russia hand, having served earlier as deputy chief of mission in Moscow. Beyrle is currently U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria.

The White House has nominated Burns as the replacement for his namesake, Nicholas Burns, as under secretary of state for political affairs when he steps down in March.

"Bill Burns has worked actively and successfully to advance a full range of important initiatives on the U.S.-Russia agenda," the U.S. presidential administration said in a statement Friday on its web site. "President Bush has every confidence that Ambassador Burns will approach his new duties with the same energy that he has demonstrated in Moscow and throughout his long and effective diplomatic career."

Nicholas Burns, 51, said he would retire to spend time with his family, the State Department said.

His is the latest in a series of resignations that have hit the department heading into the last year of George W. Bush's presidency, including three officials who left after criticism on issues related to the war in Iraq. One official resigned after a Washington call girl scandal.

William Burns is a career diplomat who previously served as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs as well as ambassador to Jordan. He has been U.S. ambassador in Moscow since 2005, when he replaced Alexander Vershbow, currently the United States ambassador in South Korea. Vershbow had served in the post for four years.

The two Burnses are not related.

Sources in the State Department were quoted as saying that it would nominate Beyrle for the post in Moscow, Western news agencies reported. The State Department refused to confirm that Beyrle was the likely candidate, but did say that it had "someone in mind," NTV television reported. The White House said it had yet to make a decision.


William Joseph Burns

Birthplace: Fort Bragg, North Carolina

Date of Birth: April 4, 1956

Experience: Ambassador to Russia, 2005-present; assistant secretary of state for Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, 2001-05; ambassador to Jordan, 1998-2001. At various posts since entering Foreign Service in 1982, including: executive secretary of the state and special assistant to secretary of state; minister-counselor for political affairs at U.S. Embassy in Moscow; acting director and principle deputy director of State Department's policy planning staff; special assistant to the president and senior director for Near East and South Asian Affairs, National Security Council staff

Education: LaSalle University, Bachelor of Arts in History, 1978; Oxford University, master's and doctorate degrees in international relations, 1981

Family: Married, two children
Whoever the ambassador will be, he or she will arrive at a time when relations between the countries are increasingly tense over a number of issues. He or she will also be responsible for the U.S. mission at a time when both Bush and President Vladimir Putin will be replaced in office.

Russia's foreign policy is not expected to change drastically, as Putin is expected to retain significant influence after the almost certain election of his favored candidate, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Changes in U.S. policy under a new administration are much more likely.

Two of the front-runners for the White House have been harshly critical of Putin. Last month, Senator Hillary Clinton, running for the Democratic Party nomination, said Putin had no soul, referring to a well-known remark that Bush made upon first meeting Putin in 2001 when he said, "I was able to get a sense of his soul." Republican candidate John McCain, who has regularly criticized Putin during his campaign, said that all he saw when he looked into Putin's eyes were three letters: "K.G.B."

A native of Muskegon, Michigan, Beyrle, 53, has specialized in Central and Eastern Europe in the state department. He has twice served in Moscow and was deputy chief of mission when named to the post in Bulgaria in 2005.

His father, Joseph Beyrle, was a decorated World War II Veteran, who was the only soldier in World War II to serve in both the U.S. and Soviet armies.

Beyrle served in the U.S. airborne forces and spent months in prisoner-of-war camps after being captured by the Germans. Surviving torture, he escaped and joined a Soviet tank brigade.

His unusual war service earned him medals from U.S. President Bill Clinton and President Boris Yeltsin on the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994.

One of John Beyrle's first experiences in Russia was as a student, when he studied for four months in Leningrad in 1976.

"I found a country so fascinating, a country so full of contradictions, a country so flawed," he told the Muskegon Chronicle in 2005, "In many ways, the Soviet Union defined us as a country. ... It was fascinating."

He also worked as an exhibition guide in Ufa, Bashkortostan, 27 years ago, he told an audience in Magnitogorsk in 2004.

As an officer in the State Department, Beyrle traveled frequently to the former Soviet Union and was on hand for the historic meeting between Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988.

He speaks fluent Russian, Bulgarian, Czech, French and German.