Biden taps US ambassador to NATO for a top State Department role

President Joe Biden has nominated the current US ambassador to NATO to one of the top positions at the State Department.

Biden announced on Wednesday his intent to nominate Julianne Smith to serve as the undersecretary of state for political affairs – a key diplomatic post involved in US efforts on Ukraine and the Middle East. Her nomination was sent to the Senate the same day, according to a release from the White House.

The role has been without a confirmed official since late March, following the departure of Victoria Nuland. John Bass, the Under Secretary for Management, has been serving in the role in an acting capacity.

Smith took on the role of US ambassador to NATO in November 2021, previously serving as a senior advisor to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

She has been the top US envoy to NATO throughout Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The war has put the defensive alliance to the test and prompted its expansion, with Finland and Sweden both joining NATO in response to Russia’s invasion.

A US official said that the administration hopes Smith will be confirmed to the job as soon as possible. It is unclear how quickly the Senate will move her nomination forward. A group of Republican senators have vowed to block all nominees in response to former President Donald Trump’s guilty verdict in the New York hush money case..

“We would urge those who wish to see our ambassador nominees confirmed quickly to weigh in with those senators who have said they’re going to block them,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Wednesday.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is responsible for the outset of the confirmation process, “is strongly supportive and enthusiastic about the announcement of her nomination,” said Eric Harris, the communications director for SFRC Democrats. “We’re definitely looking forward to advancing her through the confirmation process ASAP.”

Smith will remain in the role of US ambassador to NATO while she awaits confirmation, meaning she will likely still have the role during next month’s NATO summit in Washington, DC.

Blinken said following an informal NATO meeting in Prague last week that the Washington Summit would celebrate the alliance’s 75th anniversary but also “on the steps we’re taking to ensure that the Alliance is fit for purpose for the next 75 years to meet the challenges of today and challenges we anticipate tomorrow.”

“At the summit, we’ll be taking concrete steps to bring Ukraine closer to NATO and ensure that there’s a bridge to membership, a bridge that’s strong and well-lit,” he said. “NATO will help build Ukraine’s future force, one that can effectively deter aggression and defend against it if necessary.”

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