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Intel: Former US ambassador to UAE to join McGurk on National Security Council

Barbara Leaf is set to join other Obama-era officials with established Middle East policy credentials.
US Secretary of State John Kerry (C) walks with Deputy Chief of Mission Ethan Goldrich (far L), US Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates Barbara Leaf (2nd L) and Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan (R) upon his arrival in Abu Dhabi, on November 23, 2015. Kerry arrived in Abu Dhabi on November 23 to meet his Emirati counterparts on efforts to build a Syrian opposition coalition to lead peace talks with the Damascus regime.     AFP PHOTO / POOL / Jacquelyn Martin        (Photo credit

Barbara Leaf, the former US ambassador to the United Arab Emirates during the Barack Obama administration, is expected to be named to President-elect Joe Biden’s National Security Council, Vox reported.

If selected, Leaf will join former envoy to the coalition to defeat the Islamic State Brett McGurk, who was named the incoming NSC’s coordinator for the Middle East last week.

Why it matters:  Leaf brings extensive experience in US policy toward the Gulf, having previously served as the State Department’s top official for the Arabian Peninsula, and prior to that in the same role for Iraq, under the Obama administration. She was also the State Department’s first director of Iranian affairs.

Her reported selection is the latest sign Biden is choosing established Middle East policy professionals and placing a high priority on diplomatic engagement with Iran.

On Monday Biden announced his pick for CIA director was William Burns, a veteran foreign service official who led the Obama administration’s early back-channel negotiations with Tehran.

Last week the president-elect named Wendy Sherman, the State Department’s former top political affairs official and lead negotiator in talks with Iran that led to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as deputy secretary of state.

What’s next:  Biden was long expected to select Obama-era officials to lead his Middle East approach, but the region has changed significantly over the last four years.

The president-elect has vowed to end US support for the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen and to rejoin the 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran.

The outgoing administration of President Donald Trump walked out of the JCPOA in 2018 and introduced economic sanctions and covert action and attempted to build up regional military deterrence in hope of rolling back Iran’s support for regional proxies and its ballistic missile program.

Leaf has raised concerns over whether the United Arab Emirates is prepared to receive the highly sensitive technology of the F-35, but said the US deal will not threaten Israel’s regional superiority. She has also said Iran’s ballistic missile arsenal is “formidable and could wreak immense damage,” though it is not yet fully clear how the Biden team plans to tackle the issue.

Sullivan said earlier this month that talks over Iran’s ballistic missiles must follow negotiations over rejoining the JCPOA.

Know more:  Elizabeth Hagedorn reports on Biden's pick for CIA director.

More from Al-Monitor Staff