Jeffrey will be “coordinating policy on all aspects of the conflict in Syria and our support for a political solution,” Pompeo said in a statement. “Ambassador Jeffrey’s distinguished diplomatic career makes him an outstanding choice for this role.”
A former infantryman, ambassador to Turkey and Iraq and 35-year veteran of the Foreign Service, Jeffrey brings to the role extensive experience serving presidents of both parties and maintains a strong reputation in Washington as an expert on Middle East policy. He is also known for blunt talk, and has spared none of his former superiors – nor his future boss – from sharp criticism.
Last month, before US President Donald Trump's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Jeffrey told The Jerusalem Post that he expected Trump would attempt to trade a softer policy on Moscow’s annexation of Crimea for Russian help evicting Iran from the Syrian battlefield – a tall order, he concluded.
“It runs against several problems,” said Jeffrey. “Trump is seeming to offer some sort of recognition of Crimea – but there’s a whole set of sanctions that are congressional, and a whole set that are European. Neither will not go along with this. And how are the Russians going to get the Iranians out?”
“Putin is out to undermine the entire US security system in the Middle East, and Trump keeps allowing him to do this, as Obama did but in different ways,” Jeffrey continued. “Trump thinks he can get everything without any cost, and that’s a great fallacy in diplomacy.”
The State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Jeffrey’s recent remarks. But Heather Nauert, the department spokesman, offered only excitement and praise for Jeffrey’s appointment at a briefing earlier in the day.
“Jeffrey will work closely with the under secretary of state for political affairs, once confirmed, as well as the Near Eastern and European bureaus on this issue,” Nauert said, highlighting their interest in renewing US efforts to conclude a political process under way in Geneva toward ending the Syrian civil war.
“Given all the countries and the issues involved, from terrorism to refugees, these matters obviously cut across geographic bureaus, and therefore this requires a high level of coordination,” Nauert said.
Jeffrey rejoins the State Department from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he has served as a distinguished fellow for several years.
“Jim Jeffrey is a national treasure,” the institute’s director, Robert Satloff, said in a statement. “Any administration would be wise to find a way to inject his insight, intellect, backbone, experience and wit into the highest levels of American foreign policymaking. Secretary Pompeo deserves high marks for creating a position that taps Jim’s special talents.”
Jeffrey’s position was created by Pompeo himself, after the secretary earlier this week launched an action group on Iran policy to be led by Brian Hook, another new special envoy.