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Biden settles on ambassador picks for China, India and Japan

Longtime diplomat Nicholas Burns is the president's pick for the China post, while former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is being tapped for Japan.
Rahm Emanuel speaks during the Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Washington on Dec. 10, 2019.
Rahm Emanuel speaks during the Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Washington on Dec. 10, 2019.Al Drago / Reuters file

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has decided on his picks for the key ambassadorships to China, Japan and India and expects to announce them in the coming weeks as he prepares for his first overseas trip next month, three administration officials said.

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been offered the role of ambassador to Japan. NBC News first reported in February that Biden was considering Emanuel, a chief of staff in the Obama White House.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has been offered the ambassadorship in India, the officials said. Garcetti, a Democrat, has been mayor since 2013.

And former Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns has been offered the job as Biden's envoy to China. Burns, a longtime diplomat who has served under presidents of both parties, has been the U.S. ambassador to NATO and to Greece, as well as the State Department's spokesman.

Biden is under increasing pressure to fill out his top diplomatic ranks, which are still mostly vacant more than four months after he took office as a growing number of foreign policy crises demand U.S. attention.

Two administration officials said one reason for the delay has been concerns about making good on Biden's commitment to diversity, with the administration waiting to roll out a larger slate of nominees all at once rather than a list of all men. Garcetti is Mexican American, but many of the ambassadorial nominees whose names have emerged publicly so far have been white men.

The White House declined to comment and said no picks are final until they are formally announced.

All three nominees, if confirmed by the Senate, would serve in critical roles as the Biden administration seeks to shift the focus of U.S. foreign policy to Asia and the growing challenges posed by China.

India, the world's largest democracy, is a key partner for the U.S. in South Asia as the U.S. military pulls out of Afghanistan. It is also in the throes of a Covid-19 outbreak that has devastated the country even as vaccines are lessening new infections and deaths elsewhere.

Japan, a U.S. treaty ally that is accustomed to having high-profile ambassadors sent from Washington, is also a key U.S. partner in confronting North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.

Selection of the three picks to serve in Asian capitals contrasts with a slower process for picking ambassadors to other parts of the world.

NBC News reported this week that Biden has selected former Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides to be ambassador to Israel, while vacancies as the top U.S. diplomat to many other Middle East countries remain unfilled.

Other selections remain works in progress.

NBC News has also reported that Cindy McCain, the wife of the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is under consideration for ambassador to the U.N. World Food Program in Rome and that former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has been under consideration for ambassador to Mexico. Retired pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger is also under consideration to be ambassador to the International Civil Aviation Organization, based in Montreal.