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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 July 2018

Under secretary of state nominee adds diplomatic heft, Middle East expertise 

David Hale, referred to as a diplomats' diplomat, will be number three at the State Department 

David Hale speaks at the Pakistan Stock Exchange in Karachi, Pakistan, July 26, 2016. Reuters 
David Hale speaks at the Pakistan Stock Exchange in Karachi, Pakistan, July 26, 2016. Reuters 

A decade ago Hezbollah shot down a Lebanese army helicopter provided by an American-run programme supervised by nominee to be undersecretary of state for political affairs David Hale.

Seven years later in 2015 Hezbollah’s ranking parliamentarian Nawaf Mousaoui threatened Mr Hale, then ambassador to Lebanon, following his criticism of the Iran-backed organisation. “The days of our enemies are numbered,” said Mr Mousaoui. Unfazed, Mr Hale continued with his Beirut mission before moving to Islamabad later that year.

Then, on Tuesday, the White House announced that President Donald Trump had nominated the ambassador to Pakistan to be under secretary of state for political affairs.

Those who know him refer to Mr Hale, 57, as a “diplomats' diplomat”.

One Middle East politician who worked with the nominee described him as patient, strategic, capable of navigating hostile territory and thinking outside the box.

His past experience speaks to decades of knowledge of issues and players in the Middle East. Mr Hale served as an ambassador to Jordan and Lebanon, as Special Envoy and Deputy Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, and former Executive Assistant to the Secretary of State from 1997 and 1998.

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His nomination as number three at the State Department to replace Thomas Shannon should be credited to Mr Pompeo who picked him for the position, argued Danielle Pletka, the vice-president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

“Kudos to Mike Pompeo for getting this done” Ms Pletka told The National.

With more than two decades in US diplomacy, she called Mr Hale “a seasoned, serious foreign service officer (FSO). And it’s right to have an FSO at the top of the Department,” she said. “The foreign service is our diplomatic corps. Their voice should be clear at the top of the organisation.”

The other candidate for the job whose name was floated in May was Paula Dobriansky, a former political appointee during the George W Bush years.

Firas Maksad, the director of the Arabia Foundation, met Mr Hale when he was nominated ambassador to Lebanon in 2013. He calls him “a respected career diplomat who knows the complexities of the middle east and is not an ideologue.”

The new nominee was also a “decision taker not a decision maker as ambassador” said Mr Maksad. In that capacity Mr Hale implemented different policies for different US administrations through out the Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama years.

Mr Hale’s nomination, which requires confirmation by the Senate foreign relations committee, brings back diplomatic gravitas to the position.

The post was previously held by Mr Shannon, William Burns and Wendy Sherman, whose role was critical during in negotiations with Iran, the six party talks with North Korea, and handling the US-Russia relations.

It is unclear who will replace Mr Hale as ambassador to Pakistan, but the Senate is expected to move quickly on his nomination in the coming weeks.