Twitter-adept diplomat mulled for top U.S. Latin America post

Laura Rozen
May 26, 2011

U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Kristie Kenney is likely to be tapped to be the next assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, several current and former U.S. officials say.

Kenney, a former U.S. ambassador to Ecuador and the Philippines, has become one of the most adept U.S. diplomats in the social media universe, accruing some 18,000 followers on Twitter. Her last two diplomatic posts have been in Asia, but Kenney has previously served in several Latin American and Caribbean posts, including in Argentina, Jamaica, and as a top adviser to former U.S. assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement. (Kenney is married to the current "drugs and guns" czar, diplomat William Brownfield, a former ambassador to Colombia.)

Kenney, who could not be reached for comment, has also served as executive secretary of the State Department, and as an adviser to former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell. She helped manage the State Department transition between the Clinton and Bush administrations.

Some sources had said that Kenney was also being mulled for the top State Department diplomatic job, undersecretary of state for political affairs ("P"), along with former Clinton administration State Department counselor and North Korea adviser Wendy Sherman, as the Envoy previously reported. But officials judge that Kenney is more likely to be tapped for the Latin America post, and say Sherman is being vetted for P. "I don't think it's locked up yet ... but it's clearly [Sherman's] to lose," one official said.

Outgoing Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela recently announced his plans to return to academia.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been keen to appoint a woman to the "P" job, several advisers close to her have said. Another rumored contender for the P post, former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson, was nominated last week to be the next U.S. envoy to Egypt. Assistant Secretary of State for Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell is also said to be interested in the job.

Clinton and Obama have nominated outgoing Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns to be deputy secretary of state, to succeed Jim Steinberg.

UPDATE: House Foreign Affairs Committe ranking Democrat Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) writes President Obama, in a May 27th letter obtained by the Envoy, recommending HFAC senior staffer Peter Quilter for the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemispheric Affairs job.

"I am writing to request respectfully that you give the utmost consideration to nominating Peter Quilter, a senior member of the Foreign Affairs Committee staff, to the position of Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs," Berman writes. "He is someone who can manage well American relations with the region while being an exceptionally strong advocate for the vision of change and partnership outlined by Pres. Obama."