President Biden Nominates Karen Donfried and Donald Lu for Senior State Department Positions for European and Central Asian Affairs
United States President Joe Biden has announced a large number of nominees for senior State Department positions in an effort, not just to fill the vacancies that come with a change in administrations, but to revitalize a government agency that has been criticized for its reluctance to reform and for being increasingly politicized, especially under the Trump administration. Among the candidates are Karen Erika Donfried and Donald Lu, who have been nominated respectively for the positions of the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs and for Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs.
The appointment of Karen Donfried, currently president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) and who has previously held positions at the National Security Council, the State Department, and the Congressional Research Service, seems a positive sign of Biden’s intent to restore and strengthen transatlantic cooperation between the United States and its European partners and allies. An expert on European affairs and a co-chair on the Transatlantic Task Force, Donfried has repeatedly emphasized that, despite recent signs of public discontent towards close partnership between the United States and Europe, current political and health challenges require both sides of the Atlantic to work closely together to deal with economic downturn, international security, the current pandemic, and climate change. Among her recommendations are better regulatory environments for transatlantic technology partnerships, establishment of a digital and international corporate taxation system within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an annual joint assessment of Russian policy by the NATO and the EU, as well as the exchange of experience in decarbonization and energy-efficiency technologies.
For South and Central Asia, the nomination of the current U.S. Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic, Donald Lu, a career foreign service officer, suggests the Biden. Administration’s intends to build closer relations with the South and Central Asian region. Lu’s extensive expertise in the region through his multiple postings, including as Deputy Chief of Mission in India, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan, demonstrates the depth and breadth of the background and insight he would bring to the job. His background could considerably help the United States to keep its commitments to support the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of the Central Asian countries as was articulated within the C5+1 platform. In a recent C5+1 virtual meeting hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, the participants further stressed the importance of cooperation between the United States and Central Asia, with a particular focus on COVID-19 recovery, the Afghanistan peace process, climate change, energy, women’s empowerment, entrepreneurship, and security. With Biden now planning to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by September 2021, having someone with Lu’s experience to oversee State Department operations in South and Central Asia during this time of transition will be critical.
Both nominations have been sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for hearings, after which they will go to the full Senate for confirmation. If approved for the State Department positions, the nominees will be instrumental in helping the United States maintain close relations and strategic partnerships with Europe and Central Asia.