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Trump to pick Mexico expert for Western Hemisphere Affairs post

Franco Ordonez, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump will nominate intelligence and Mexico expert Kimberly Breier to be assistant secretary of the State Department's Western Hemisphere Affairs, two sources with knowledge of the White House selection process have told McClatchy.

If confirmed by the Senate, Breier would lead one of the most influential bureaus within the State Department as it launches an aggressive agenda in the Americas. That agenda includes renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada and calling on its Latin American leaders to take stronger measures against Venezuela.

"She's highly qualified," said Mark Feierstein, the White House National Security Council's senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs under President Barack Obama. "She's a pragmatic Republican. She fits squarely within the bipartisan traditions of U.S. foreign policy overall and U.S. foreign policy toward the region."

Breier, who currently handles State Department policy planning in the Western Hemisphere, has worked nearly two decades on regional affairs, including more than a decade in the U.S. intelligence community. She also served on President George Bush's National Security Council Staff in the Office of Western Hemisphere Affairs. Prior to joining the Trump administration, Breier served as director of the U.S.-Mexico Futures Initiative for the Center for Strategic International Studies think tank.

The news of Breier's nomination comes as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is on a five-country trek across Latin America and the Caribbean. Her nomination was first reported by The Global Americans website. The administration is planning to play a role in several additional events in the region, including the Summit of the Americas in Peru in April and the G7 summit in Canada in June. In November, Argentina will host the G20 for the first time in the South America.

Breier was picked over a list of potential candidates that included Francisco Palmieri, principal deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Mauricio Claver-Carone, a Cuba expert and Trump campaign official currently at the Treasury Department, and Ambassador Michael Kozak, who has held a series of senior positions and once served as Chief of Mission in Havana.

As a Mexico expert, Breier is not expected to push the administration to turn up the pressure on Venezuela and Cuba. But Feierstein said she is expected to continue those policies and could play a role helping Trump pressure other Latin American governments to take stronger positions on the Caracas regime.

"I'm just glad that we will have a nominee soon and we can finally turn around that bureau," said one U.S. official familiar with the nomination process.

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The State Department has been under pressure to fill the role, as well as a number of ongoing vacancies that have been left open by departing officials.

In November, Sens. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who chairs the Armed Services committee, and Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, said questionable management practices have led to unfilled positions and declining morale that "paint a disturbing picture."

"It's an untenable situation moving forward with no Assistant Secretary at WHA," said Jason Marczak, director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council. "It's an untenable situation moving forward with no Assistant Secretary at WHA. There is of course an incredibly qualified team (at WHA Bureau), Paco Palmieri is incredibly competent, incredibly capable but the Senate confirmation is important for a person in the bureaucracy to be able to move foreign policy."

(The Miami Herald's Nora Gamez Torres contributed to this report.)

(c)2018 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com

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