William Burns, Joe Biden's CIA Pick, Condemned Donald Trump's 'Aggressive' Iran Policy

President-elect Joe Biden will nominate veteran diplomat William J. Burns to be the next Director of the CIA, succeeding agency Director Gina Haspel.

A press release sent out Monday by the Biden transition team said Burns will bring "a deep understanding of the threats we face and tireless dedication to protecting the American people," and will—if confirmed—be "the first career diplomat to serve as CIA Director."

Burns is served 33 years in the U.S. Foreign Service and is now the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

He had ended his career in 2014 as Deputy Secretary of State. Burns also served as U.S. Ambassador to Russia from 2005 to 2008 and U.S. Ambassador to Jordan from 1998 to 2001.

In his statement, Biden described Burns as "an exemplary diplomat with decades of experience on the world stage keeping our people and our country safe and secure.

"He shares my profound belief that intelligence must be apolitical and that the dedicated intelligence professionals serving our nation deserve our gratitude and respect."

"Ambassador Burns will bring the knowledge, judgment, and perspective we need to prevent and confront threats before they can reach our shores. The American people will sleep soundly with him as our next CIA Director."

Among Burns' most significant achievements is his role in talks to facilitate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal with Iran, signed in 2015 by President Barack Obama and abandoned by President Donald Trump in 2018.

Along with Jake Sullivan—Biden's pick to be the next national security adviser—Burns led a secret diplomatic channel to Iran which produced an interim agreement between Tehran and the so-called P5+1 group of nations; China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the U.S., plus Germany.

This in turn led to the JCPOA, which lifted international sanctions on Iran in exchange for restrictions on the country's nuclear energy program.

Burns and Sullivan wrote an article last year criticizing Trump's withdrawal from the JCPOA, and his subsequent "maximum pressure" effort to collapse the Iranian economy and isolate the regime on the world stage, forcing it to renegotiate a more stringent replacement for the JCPOA.

Burns and Sullivan described Trump's strategy as "risky" and "ill-fated," and condemned his "aggressive escalation of sanctions, the blustery rhetoric of his senior officials, and his administration's lack of direct engagement with Tehran."

The authors said Trump's actions suggested a "fundamentally different goal: the capitulation or implosion of the Iranian regime."

Burns and Sullivan warned that maximum pressure risked "a violent collision, whether intended or unintended," with Iran, and warned that the president's hawkish team and hardliners in Tehran "could easily become mutual enablers in pushing a crisis up the escalatory ladder."

"It's time to take diplomacy seriously again," the two men wrote, suggesting both sides should move towards dialogue and negotiation over threats and posturing.

"Contacts with the Iranians are not a reward for bad behavior, and we should have no illusions that they will engage productively on all our concerns.

"But diplomacy is the best way to test intentions and define the realm of the possible, repair the damage our unilateral turn has inflicted on our international partnerships, and invest in more effective coercion if and when it's needed to focus minds in Tehran."

Biden has already identified reviving the JCPOA as a key foreign policy goal, much to the frustration of the outgoing Trump team and regional American allies including Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The incoming team has argued that returning to compliance with the agreement will be the first step towards further talks on Iran's ballistic missile program and use of regional proxy forces.

Iran began moving away from compliance after Trump withdrew in 2018. Tehran said it would no longer honor any part of the agreement after the U.S. assassinated Major General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad last year.

And following the killing of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in November, Iran's parliament voted to expand enriched uranium production and block international inspections of Iranian nuclear sites.

Still, Iranian leaders have said they remain open to returning to the JCPOA's terms if all other signatories do the same. The other signatories to the deal—China, Russia, the U.K., France and Germany—have all expressed their support for the deal to be revived.

William Burns Biden CIA pick on Iran
Then-Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns listens during a press conference at the Department of the Treasury July 11, 2013 in Washington, D.C. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images/Getty