William Joseph Burns

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For other people with the same name, see William Burns (disambiguation).
William J. Burns
United States Secretary of State
In office
January 20, 2009 – January 21, 2009
President Barack Obama
Preceded by Condoleezza Rice
Succeeded by Hillary Clinton
17th United States Deputy Secretary of State
In office
July 28, 2011 – November 3, 2014
President Barack Obama
Preceded by James Steinberg
Succeeded by Wendy Sherman (Acting)
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
In office
May 13, 2008 – July 28, 2011
President George W. Bush
Barack Obama
Preceded by Nicholas Burns
Succeeded by Tom Shannon (Acting)
United States Ambassador to Russia
In office
November 8, 2005 – May 13, 2008
President George W. Bush
Preceded by Alexander Vershbow
Succeeded by John Beyrle
Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs
In office
June 4, 2001 – March 2, 2005
President George W. Bush
Preceded by Edward Walker
Succeeded by David Welch
United States Ambassador to Jordan
In office
August 9, 1998 – June 4, 2001
President Bill Clinton
George W. Bush
Preceded by Wesley Egan
Succeeded by Edward Gnehm
Executive Secretary of the United States Department of State
In office
January 16, 1996 – February 27, 1998
President Bill Clinton
Preceded by Kenneth Brill
Succeeded by Kristie Kenney
Personal details
Born (1956-04-04) April 4, 1956 (age 60)
Fort Bragg, North Carolina, U.S.
Spouse(s) Lisa Carty
Children 2
Alma mater La Salle University
St John's College, Oxford

William Joseph Burns (born April 11, 1956)[1] is a former career Foreign Service Officer. He was Ambassador of the United States to the Russian Federation from 2005 until 2008, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from 2008 to 2011, and United States Deputy Secretary of State from 2011 to 2014.

He retired from the U.S. Foreign Service on November 3, 2014, after a 33-year diplomatic career with the highest rank in the Foreign Service, Career Ambassador, and is currently the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the oldest international affairs think tank in the United States.

Early life and education[edit]

Born at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Burns earned a B.A. in History from La Salle University and M.Phil and D.Phil degrees in international relations from Oxford University, where he studied as a Marshall Scholar. His dissertation was expanded and published in 1985 as Economic Aid and American Policy Toward Egypt, 1955–1981.


U.S. Foreign Service[edit]

Ambassador Burns served as Deputy Secretary of State from 2011 until 2014. He served as Under Secretary for Political Affairs from 2008 until 2011. He was U.S. Ambassador to Russia from 2005 until 2008, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs from 2001 until 2005, and U.S. Ambassador to Jordan from 1998 until 2001. Burns speaks Arabic, Russian, and French.

Ambassador Burns has also served in a number of other posts since entering the Foreign Service in 1982, including: Executive Secretary of the State Department and Special Assistant to Secretaries Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright; Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow; Acting Director and Principal Deputy Director of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff; and Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council.

Secretary of State John Kerry lauded his "quiet, head-down, get-it-done diplomacy", stating that it had earned him the trust of both Republican and Democratic administrations; The Atlantic called him a “secret diplomatic weapon” deployed against some of the United States' thorniest foreign policy challenges.[2] He has played a leading role in the Middle East Peace Process, the elimination of Libya’s illicit weapons program, and the secret bilateral channel with the Iranians that led to a historic interim agreement between Iran and the P5+1.[3]

Ambassador Burns played a vital role in the efforts to re-set relations with Russia early in the Obama Administration and in the strengthening of the strategic partnership with India.

Ambassador Burns’ reporting cables and memoranda are legendary within the State Department. A cable he signed as ambassador and released by WikiLeaks, "A Caucasus Wedding",[4] received wide praise and lauded as "almost worthy of Evelyn Waugh".[5]


On April 11, after twice delaying his retirement first at the request of Secretary John Kerry and then at the request of President Obama, the State Department announced Burns would step down as Deputy Secretary of State in October 2014.

In a press statement announcing Ambassador Burns’ decision to retire, Secretary Kerry said that “Bill is a statesman cut from the same cloth, caliber, and contribution as George F. Kennan and Chip Bohlen, and he has more than earned his place on a very short list of American diplomatic legends”.[6] President Obama, in his own statement, said Ambassador Burns “has been a skilled advisor, consummate diplomat, and inspiration to generations of public servants…the country is stronger for Bill’s service”.[7]

On October 29, 2014, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace announced that Ambassador Burns would begin his tenure as its ninth President on February 4, 2015.[8]


He is the recipient of three Presidential Distinguished Service Awards and a number of Department of State awards, including three Secretary's Distinguished Service Awards, the Secretary's Career Achievement Award, the 2006 Charles E. Cobb, Jr. Ambassadorial Award for Initiative and Success in Trade Development, the 2005 Robert C. Frasure Memorial Award, and the James Clement Dunn Award. He also received the Department of Defense Award for Distinguished Public Service and the U.S. Intelligence Community Medallion. In 1994, he was named to TIME Magazine's list of the "50 Most Promising American Leaders Under Age 40", and its list of "100 Young Global Leaders". Burns holds four honorary doctoral degrees and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Among his other awards and honors are: Foreign Policy's “Diplomat of the Year” award in 2013;[9] George C. Marshall Medal (2014); The Anti-Defamation League’s “Distinguished Statesman Award” (2014);[10] The EastWest Institute's "Global Statesman Award" (2014);[11] The Middle East Institute's "Lifetime Achievement Award" (2014); The Eurasia Foundation's "Sarah Carey Award" (2014);[12] U.S.-Russia Business Council's "Robert Strauss Leadership Award" (2014);[13] International Student House’s “Global Leadership Award” (2013);[14] Tufts University’s “Dr. Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award” (2014);[15] and Honorary Fellow, St. John’s College, Oxford (from 2012).[16]

Personal life[edit]

Burns and his wife Lisa Carty have two daughters.


  1. ^ "NNDB Article". Retrieved 2008-03-01. 
  2. ^ Kralev, Nicholas (April 4, 2013). "The White House's Secret Diplomatic Weapon". The Atlantic. Retrieved 30 June 2014. 
  3. ^ Gordon, Michael (April 11, 2014). "Diplomat Who Led Secret Talks with Iran Plans to Retire". New York Times. Retrieved 30 June 2014. 
  4. ^ "US embassy cables: A wedding feast, the Caucasus way", 1 Dec 2010, The Guardian
  5. ^ Garton Ash, Timothy (November 28, 2010). "US Embassy Cables: A Banquet of Secrets". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 June 2014. 
  6. ^ "Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns' Decision to Retire in October 2014". www.state.gov. Retrieved 30 June 2014. 
  7. ^ own statement "Statement by President Obama on the Retirement of Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns" Check |url= value (help). Retrieved 30 June 2014. 
  8. ^ http://carnegieendowment.org/2014/10/28/william-j.-burns-named-next-carnegie-president/hsw8
  9. ^ "Bill Burns Honored as Diplomat of the Year". foreignpolicy.com. Foreign Policy. Retrieved 30 June 2014. 
  10. ^ "Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns Presented with ADL Award". www.adl.org. Retrieved 30 June 2014. 
  11. ^ http://www.ewi.info/idea/ewi-honors-deputy-secretary-state-william-j-burns
  12. ^ http://www.eurasia.org/2014-sarah-carey-forum
  13. ^ https://www.usrbc.org/activities/calendar/event/2437
  15. ^ "Dr. Jean Mayer Award Recipients". www.tuftsgloballeadership.org. Retrieved 30 June 2014. 
  16. ^ "RAI in America". www.rai.ox.ac.uk. Retrieved 30 June 2014. 

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