NSC’s Matthew Spence tapped for DASD Middle East

Laura Rozen
January 14, 2012

Matthew J. Spence, NSC senior director for international economic affairs and a top aide to National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, has been tapped to become the new Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, Pentagon officials said Friday.

"It gives me great pleasure to announce that Matthew Spence will transition from the National Security Staff at the White House to DASD Middle East in February," Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy wrote colleagues Friday. Spence, in his White House roles, including special assistant to the President, "worked on many of the most important Middle East policy issues for the President," Flournoy's note said.

Before joining the NSC, Spence served as the co-founder and director of the Truman National Security project. He earned a PhD in international relations from Oxford University, studied law and was a World Fellow at Yale University, and has written on American democracy promotion. His appointment to the DoD post was championed by Donilon, policy hands said.

He will succeed Colin Kahl, who left the DASD Middle East job in January to return to Georgetown as an associate professor of security studies at the School of Foreign Service, and to serve as a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security.

The Obama administration Middle East team has been undergoing some transition. Top White House Iran/Middle East strategist Dennis Ross left the job in December to return to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and has not yet been replaced. The NSC's senior director for the Persian Gulf Puneet Talwar and Tom Donilon have been leading the Iran portfolio in the White House, along with WMD czar Gary Samore and his team on the non-proliferation front.

Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns has turned over the day to day Iran portfolio in the department to new Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman. Sherman has been working closely with Iran sanctions czar Bob Einhorn and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Energy Resources advisor Carlos Pascual and deputy assistant secretary of state for energy Amos Hochstein, on strategizing with countries around the globe on ways to squeeze Iran's oil export revenues, while avoiding a spike in oil prices. Sherman and Hochstein traveled earlier this month to Saudi Arabia and UAE as part of those efforts, while Sherman and Einhorn traveled to Israel in December to huddle with Israeli policymakers on the Iran nuclear issue. The Iran sanctions push has also been closely coordinated with senior officials from the Treasury and Energy Departments--Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen and Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Poneman.

More transitions are coming to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, from where Flournoy, the Pentagon's top policy advisor, announced she will step down in February. (Her successor has not yet been named, but her principal deputy Jim Miller is said to be on the short-list). Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Alexander "Sandy" Vershbow is also due to depart in February for the top civilian job at NATO.

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