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William Burns, Deputy Secretary William Burns, Deputy Secretary

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State Department

William Burns, Deputy Secretary

When Burns was named undersecretary of State for political affairs in 2008—achieving the highest career position in the State Department—it could have been the culmination of a stellar Foreign Service career. Instead, in 2011, he became only the second-serving career diplomat in history to rise to the position of deputy secretary. Few observers were surprised. Burns, 57, was marked for fast advancement almost from the moment he joined the Foreign Service in 1982. In 1985 he authored the book Economic Aid and American Policy Toward Egypt, 1955-1981. As senior director for Near East and South Asian affairs on the National Security Council, he briefed Ronald Reagan on the Middle East. He also served as a special assistant to Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright, and acting director of the policy-planning staff. "Burns's brilliant mind, unflappable demeanor, and flair for self-effacement in a field where titanic egos often clash make him the fastest-rising career diplomat of his generation," Time magazine proclaimed in 1994, naming Burns to its list of "50 Most Promising American Leaders Under Age 40." After serving as ambassador to Jordan, Burns was assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs in the critical period following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. When the Bush administration decided to engage with Iranian leaders about that country's nuclear program, Burns was dispatched to meet with Iran's nuclear-energy minister. He would go on to serve as ambassador to Russia, before being named undersecretary for political affairs, essentially the department's No. 3 official. Burns received his bachelor's in history from LaSalle University and his doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. He is married to Lisa Carty.


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