William Joseph Burns

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William Joseph Burns
17th United States Deputy Secretary of State
In office
July 28, 2011 – November 3, 2014
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byJames Steinberg
Succeeded byTony Blinken
United States Secretary of State
In office
January 20, 2009 – January 21, 2009
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Barack Obama
Preceded byCondoleezza Rice
Succeeded byHillary Clinton
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
In office
May 13, 2008 – July 28, 2011
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Barack Obama
Preceded byR. Nicholas Burns
Succeeded byTom Shannon (Acting)
5th United States Ambassador to Russia
In office
November 8, 2005 – May 13, 2008
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Preceded byAlexander Vershbow
Succeeded byJohn Beyrle
Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs
In office
June 4, 2001 – March 2, 2005
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Preceded byEdward S. Walker Jr.
Succeeded byDavid Welch
United States Ambassador to Jordan
In office
August 9, 1998 – June 4, 2001
PresidentBill Clinton
George W. Bush
Preceded byWesley Egan
Succeeded byEdward Gnehm
Executive Secretary of the United States Department of State
In office
January 16, 1996 – February 27, 1998
PresidentBill Clinton
Preceded byKenneth C. Brill
Succeeded byKristie Kenney
Personal details
Born (1956-04-04) April 4, 1956 (age 63)
Fort Bragg, North Carolina, U.S.
Spouse(s)Lisa Carty
EducationLa Salle University (BA)
St John's College, Oxford (MPhil, DPhil)

William Joseph Burns (born April 11, 1956) is a former career Foreign Service Officer,[1] and President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace since February 2015.[2] Previously, 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.

Early life and education[edit]

Burns was born at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He earned a B.A. in History from La Salle University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and M.Phil and D.Phil degrees in International Relations from Oxford University, United Kingdom, 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 entered the Foreign Service in 1982, and served as Deputy Secretary of State from 2011 until 2014. Previously, 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. Before these, he was also 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.

Burns, together with George Tenet was instrumental in forcing through the short-lived Israeli-Palestinian cease fire agreement of June 2001.[3][4] He played a leading role in 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.[5] He also played a major role in efforts to re-set relations with Russia early in the Obama Administration and in the strengthening of the strategic partnership with India. 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.[6]

A cable Burns signed as ambassador and released by WikiLeaks[7] describing "a high society wedding in the Caucasus -- complete with massive quantities of alcohol, lumps of gold and revolver-wielding drunkards" attended by President Ramzan Kadyrov,[8] received widespread international coverage, with historian Timothy Garton Ash writing that "Burns's analyses of Russian politics are astute," with the "highly entertaining account" of the wedding "almost worthy of Evelyn Waugh."[9]

Retirement from the Foreign Service[edit]

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

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".[10] 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".[11]

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.

Burns was widely assumed to be on presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's shortlist of Secretary of State nominees, had she won.[12] After retiring from the Service, Burns and his wife Lisa Carty began contributing to Democratic Party candidates.[citation needed]

His memoir of his diplomatic career The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal was published in 2019.


Burns with CMU President Subra Suresh (middle) and ITU-T Director Malcolm Johnson (left), 2016

Burns 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.[13] He was also awarded Foreign Policy's "Diplomat of the Year" award in 2013;[14] and the Anti-Defamation League's "Distinguished Statesman Award" (2014).[15] He is also an 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. ^ "Ambassador William J. Burns Named Next Carnegie President". National Endowment for Democracy (NEFD). 28 October 2014. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  3. ^ Ephron, Dan (13 June 2001). "US rokers a cease-fire in Mid-East 11th hour Deal Spells Out Steps; Disputes Remain". Boston Globe. ProQuest 405392064.
  4. ^ "The Tenet Plan : Israeli-Palestinian Ceasefire and Security Plan, Proposed by CIA Director George Tenet; June 13, 2001". Avalon Project. Yale Law School. Retrieved 25 April 2017.
  5. ^ Gordon, Michael (April 11, 2014). "Diplomat Who Led Secret Talks with Iran Plans to Retire". New York Times. Retrieved 30 June 2014.
  6. ^ Kralev, Nicholas (April 4, 2013). "The White House's Secret Diplomatic Weapon". The Atlantic. Retrieved 30 June 2014.
  7. ^ "US embassy cables: A wedding feast, the Caucasus way", 1 Dec 2010, The Guardian
  8. ^ http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/wedding-in-the-caucasus-the-us-ambassador-learns-that-cognac-is-like-wine-a-732370.html
  9. ^ Garton Ash, Timothy (November 28, 2010). "US Embassy Cables: A Banquet of Secrets". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 June 2014.
  10. ^ "Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns' Decision to Retire in October 2014". www.state.gov. Retrieved 30 June 2014.
  11. ^ "Statement by President Obama on the Retirement of Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns". Retrieved 30 June 2014.
  12. ^ http://www.politico.com/story/2016/08/hillary-clinton-john-kerry-secretary-state-226740
  13. ^ http://carnegieendowment.org/experts/1014
  14. ^ "Bill Burns Honored as Diplomat of the Year". foreignpolicy.com. Foreign Policy. Retrieved 30 June 2014.
  15. ^ "Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns Presented with ADL Award". www.adl.org. Retrieved 30 June 2014.
  16. ^ "RAI in America". www.rai.ox.ac.uk. Retrieved 30 June 2014.

External links[edit]