John J. Sullivan, David Hale, Mark Green key to U.S. U.N. mission

September 27, 2018

UNITED NATIONS President Trump may own the spotlight, but away from the microphones a seasoned core of lesser-known American officials were the ones driving the administration’s foreign policy operation around the three-day diplomatic extravaganza known as the U.N. General Assembly.

With Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and an expanding supporting cast for Mr. Trump in place, the delegation this week has been far more productive and more visible than the one the U.S. sent to the gathering of world leaders a year ago, officials say.

This year’s team “features senior leadership from the White House, the State Department, USAID and many other agencies,” one U.S. diplomat told The Washington Times, adding that they were “engaged in a dizzying number and array of meetings [and] events.”

Although Mr. Pompeo, National Security Adviser John R. Bolton and Ambassador Nikki Haley made headlines, the unsung heroes this week included David Hale, undersecretary of state for political affairs, USAID Administrator Mark Green and Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan, said the diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Their efforts largely focused on sensitive geopolitical issues far less sexy than saber-rattling over North Korea or Iran have gone largely unreported in the press.

In addition to squeezing in a major speech on U.S. involvement in efforts to battle tuberculosis around the world, Mr. Green has quietly engaged in direct, high-level talks with Liberian President George Weah and Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque, among others.

During the Bangladesh meeting, the onetime Wisconsin state legislator and Republican congressman stressed Washington’s “expectation” that Bangladesh’s upcoming elections be “free, fair, and participatory.” It was a quiet message, but one at the heart of the Trump administration’s attempt to counter growing Chinese influence in the region.

Mr. Hale assumed the undersecretary for political affairs post just three weeks ago, but has been scrambling all over Manhattan this week for high-level meetings, meeting with European External Action Service Secretary General Helga Schmid, Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov and Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. special envoy to the Syrian crisis.

A career Foreign Service officer who once served in Tunisia, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, Mr. Hale separately oversaw a key gathering with African leaders Wednesday to examine challenges ahead in the South Sudan peace process.

Busy deputy

But it’s Mr. Sullivan, who been deputy secretary of state since Mr. Pompeo took over as America’s top diplomat four months ago, who officials say may be the most vital player on the Trump administration’s team this week.

On Wednesday alone, Mr. Sullivan held direct talks with Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, met with Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie, and was the lead U.S. representative at a major forum on counterterrorism.

That was all before lunchtime. By mid-afternoon, the former deputy secretary of commerce and Boston lawyer was racing through Manhattan to meet with Qatari Foreign Minister Abdulrahman Al Thani and to Vietnam’s mission in the city for a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Ming.

The State Department’s press office said Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Al Thani “agreed on the importance of urgently assisting the thousands of Iraqis affected by the water crisis” in southern Iraq. The focus on such issues is seen as critical to President Trump’s push over the past year to convince wealthy Arab powers Qatar among them to take contribute more money towards humanitarian programs needed to stave off a resurgence of extremism in Iraq and other struggling countries in the region.

Mr. Sullivan capped his meetings Wednesday by attending a reception hosted by European Union diplomats back at the U.N.’s sprawling headquarters on midtown Manhattan’s east side. His schedule Monday and Tuesday was no less hectic, featuring meetings with the top diplomats from Ukraine and Angola and an appearance as the top U.S. representative at a range of U.N. events, such as the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit and two gatherings on the Venezuelan refugee crisis.

The administration’s expanded bandwidth for diplomacy reflects Mr. Pompeo’s vow in May to get the State Department’s “swagger” back. When he replaced former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was fired by Mr. Trump, Mr. Pompeo arrived at a moment of soaring frustration at Foggy Bottom over threats of massive budget cuts, management chaos and a slew of key positions still unfilled.

“Secretary Pompeo, given his experience in the military, in Congress and at the CIA, seems far more attuned to the institutional requirements of the department than Rex Tillerson was,” said P.J. Crowley, who served as an assistant secretary of state for public affairs during the Obama administration.

Mr. Crowley said in an interview on Wednesday that there do “seem to be more bodies in key places” in the diplomatic corps under Mr. Pompeo. While noting there are “still a lot of vacancies” to fill, Mr. Crowley praised the appointments of Mr. Hale and Mr. Sullivan.

In particular, he said, Mr. Sullivan has done “significant work to maintain connections” between the career diplomats at the State Department and the politically-appointed management team around Mr. Pompeo.

What remains to be seen is whether Mr. Trump’s push to assert American independence in his own meetings and public appearances this week will undercut the efforts of those working beneath him.

The president’s assertion during his speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday that “we reject the ideology of globalism” starkly contrasted from the sentiment of speeches given here this week by dozens of other leaders.

Just before Mr. Trump’s remarks, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for more global cooperation and openly lamented that “multilateralism is under fire precisely when we need it most” a statement widely read as veiled shot at the Trump administration’s “America first” agenda.

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