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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Dina Habib Powell to leave the Trump White House 

Her departure will create a void in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process delegation and takes away a key US liaison with Arab governments

Dina Habib Powell, pictured here delivering a lecture on women's economic empowerment in Abu Dhabi, is the latest White House departure. Donald Weber / Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi
Dina Habib Powell, pictured here delivering a lecture on women's economic empowerment in Abu Dhabi, is the latest White House departure. Donald Weber / Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi

US president Donald Trump’s deputy national security adviser, Egyptian-American Dina Habib Powell, will leave her position early next year.

The surprising news comes following Mr Trump’s announcement recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, something that has sparked outrage and protests across the Middle East.

The exit of Mrs Powell, a driving force behind the Trump administration’s Middle East policy, will be part of an anticipated wave of departures following Mr Trump’s first year in office, the Washington Post reported, quoting a number of US officials.

However, unlike other senior officials — such as US secretary of state Rex Tillerson — who are rumoured to soon be leaving or replaced over disagreements with the US president, Mrs Powell’s departure is attributed to family reasons.

One source close to Mrs Powell told The National that she has been mulling her departure “for a few months and is itching to go back to New York where her family is”.

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Mrs Powell has played an instrumental role in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and has, since taking office in January, helped mend relations between Arab governments and Washington.

She has also been part of a number of visiting US delegations. She accompanied Mr Trump to Saudi Arabia in May, she travelled with secretary of defence Jim Mattis to Egypt, and has embarked on multiple trips in the Middle East with Jared Kushner — Mr Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, who is leading a delegation to discuss the peace process.

Mrs Powell also played a critical role in negotiations of the release of US activist Aya Hijazi from Egyptian prisons.

Mrs Powell was born in Cairo in 1973, speaks fluent Arabic and immigrated with her parents to Texas at the age of four.

At 32, she served as assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs under George W Bush. She then moved to New York and joined Goldman Sachs in 2007 as managing director and, in 2010, became a partner.

Mrs Powell was praised for her efforts at the financial giant to promote women entrepreneurship, including overseeing initiatives and aid programmes that allowed her to cross paths with Ivanka Trump — Mr Trump’s daughter and top aide.

With her departure, the Arab-American community will lose a seat close to the president’s desk. It is still unclear who will replace Mrs Powell, but an appointment will most likely take place early next year after a reshuffle of national security and foreign policy positions.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump has nominated Alex Azar, of Lebanese origins, as secretary of health and human services.