The Foreign Service Journal - November 2014 - page 16

guished Service Awards, two Distinguished Honor Awards, the
2006 Charles E. Cobb Jr. Ambassadorial Award for Initiative
and Success in Trade Development, the 2005 Robert C. Frasure
Memorial Award for conflict resolution and peacemaking, and
the James Clement Dunn Award. In 1994, he was named to
magazine’s list of the “50 Most Promising American Leaders
Under Age 40” and to
’s list of “100 Young Global Leaders.”
Amb. Burns joined the American Foreign Service Association
in 1982, the year he joined the Foreign Service. He has been a
great supporter of the organization ever since.
—Shawn Dorman, Editor
Robert J. Silverman:
Bill, thanks for your support of the For-
eign Service and AFSA over the years. It’s been really tremendous.
Looking back over a career spanning 33 years, can you give us
some of your highlights?
William J. Burns:
First, it’s very nice to see you both. I’ve
been extraordinarily fortunate over nearly 33 years in the Foreign
Service, and had wonderful opportunities and terrific people to
work with. I realize how lucky I’ve been.
Within my first decade in the Foreign Service, I worked for
Secretary [James] Baker as principal deputy director of the Policy
Planning Staff during what was as exciting a period in American
foreign policy as any I’ve lived and worked through—the end
of the Cold War, breakup of the Soviet Union, Desert Storm, the
Madrid Peace Conference and the reunification of Germany.
It was a combination of fascinating and transformative events
in the world, and some terrific people to learn from, including
Secretary Baker, President George H. W. Bush, Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, National Security Advisor Brent
Scowcroft and Larry Eagleburger, who sat in this office as Deputy
Secretary of State at the time.
That was a fascinating moment inmy career, fromwhich I
learned a lot. I served a few years later as ambassador to Jordan
during the period in which King Hussein died after 47 years on the
throne. Jordan didn’t know a world without King Hussein. It was
a challenging period in which to demonstrate the commitment of
the United States, of Americans, to Jordanians as they made the
quite successful transition fromKing Hussein to King Abdullah.
I’ve loved the times I’ve worked in Russia, despite all the seri-
ous complications between our governments. It’s a big, fascinat-
ing society.
And then, I guess the last thing I’d mention as a highlight is
the secret bilateral negotiations we held with the Iranians on the
nuclear issue last year. We were able, first, to do something in
secret, which is not easy to do in this day and age; but second, to
make enough progress to help produce a first agreement on the
nuclear issue, which opened the door to some greater possibili-
ties. It’s a tall order to walk through that door. And it remains a
question whether the Iranians are going to take advantage of this
opportunity. But it won’t be for lack of trying on our part.
I know you’ll be remaining involved in those negotiations
for some time, as well. As they say in the book of Joshua: Be strong
and have good courage.
You mentioned Secretary Powell and some of the other Secre-
taries of State. You’ve worked with an incredibly impressive group
of people over the years. Can you mention two or three of the
career people that stand out in your mind?
I’ve worked for 10 Secretaries of State during the course
of my career, and admired and respected all of them. As I look at
career role models, I think of Tom Pickering, for whom I worked
in Moscow in the early- to mid-1990s, as somebody who’s
always embodied for me the best of our profession. I’ve certainly
learned a lot from him, not just in terms of diplomatic skill, but
also in terms of decency and integrity, and the way in which he
always conducted himself as a professional.
I’ve also learned a lot from people whose names aren’t always
in the newspaper, both in the Foreign Service and the Civil
Service. And I’ll give you two examples of spectacularly talented,
if unsung, professionals in the State Department—both civil
One is Jonathan Schwartz, now deputy legal advisor, who is
about to retire, as well. Jonathan and I worked together on Middle
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton officiates at the
swearing-in ceremony for Deputy Secretary of State William
J. Burns on Sept. 8, 2011. In attendance are Burns’ wife, Lisa
Carty, center, and the couple’s daughters, Sarah, far right, and
U.S. Department of State
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