• February 4, 2023

CIA Nominee William Burns Talks Tough On China : NPR

William Burns, President Biden’s candidate for CIA director, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. Burns served in the State Department for more than 30 years and was the first professional diplomat to run the espionage agency. Tom Williams / AP hide caption

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Tom Williams / AP

William Burns, President Biden’s candidate for CIA director, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. Burns served in the State Department for more than 30 years and was the first professional diplomat to run the espionage agency.

Tom Williams / AP

President Biden’s candidate to head the CIA, William Burns, spent more than three decades as a diplomat. Still, Burns sounded a lot like a national security chief at his confirmation hearing on Wednesday when describing how the US should be cautious about China and its leader Xi Jinping.

“There are a growing number of areas in which Xi’s China is a formidable, authoritarian opponent,” Burns said in his opening address to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

He said China is working to “methodically strengthen its ability to steal intellectual property, suppress its own people, harass its neighbors, expand its global reach and build influence in American society.”

Longtime diplomat William Burns is Biden's choice to lead the CIA

Democratic and Republican senators supported Burns’ assessment, and many praised Burns for his long career at the State Department, which included ambassadors in Russia and Jordan and top jobs in Washington.

Burns, 64, would be the first professional diplomat to head the CIA, and his endorsement would largely complete President Biden’s national security team.

Consensus building on China

When pressing for details on China, he said the US had to prepare for challenges that would take decades.

“I think the development of Xi Jinping’s China over the past six or seven years has been a very sharp wake-up call,” said Burns. “The kind of aggressive, undisguised ambition and assertiveness made very clear to me the nature of the opponent and rival we are facing today.”

Burns said it was critical for the US to develop a long-term consensus on how to approach China. So far, the Biden administration has announced that it will take a hard line on many issues – as has the Trump administration – despite Biden’s team saying it will work much more closely with American allies.

“We have to buckle up to compete with China in the long run,” added Burns. “This is not comparable to the competition with the Soviet Union in the Cold War, which took place mainly in terms of security and ideology. This is an adversary who is extraordinarily ambitious in terms of technology and also capable in terms of economy.”

With regard to Russia, Burns described the country as “declining power,” but said President Vladimir Putin has consistently proven that he can be a disruptive force even with a relatively weak hand.

“Most of the white hair came from my service in Russia over the years, especially from dealing with Vladimir Putin’s Russia,” said Burns, the US ambassador to Moscow from 2005 to 2008. “What I’ve learned is that it always does it is a mistake to underestimate Putin’s Russia. “

Feedback talks with Iran

Burns helped start secret nuclear talks with Iran, despite retiring from the State Department before the deal was signed in 2015. The Trump administration pulled out of this agreement while the Biden administration tries to get back to it.

In nominating the best national security advisors, Biden selected experienced hands with whom he previously worked as vice president. Some were ranked second during that time and are now being promoted to leadership positions after leaving government during Trump’s tenure.

Burns ranked No. 2 in the State Department when he retired in 2014. Since leaving government, he has headed the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace in Washington.

Avril Haines, who served as deputy director of the CIA under former President Barack Obama, is now director of national intelligence. Tony Blinken, the Obama Deputy Secretary of State, is Biden’s Secretary of State. Jake Sullivan, who served as National Security Advisor to Vice President Biden, is now National Security Advisor to President Biden.

Jack

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