'Breath of fresh air' as Biden picks officials, signals seriousness on climate change

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President-elect Joe Biden’s announcements on Monday to fill top White House and cabinet posts were welcomed by analysts and diplomats alike, while the former VP moved to show that he was serious about climate change.

After making Ron Klain his first hire as chief of staff earlier this month, Biden announced Monday his picks for secretary of state, national security adviser, US ambassador to the UN and a special presidential envoy for climate.

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Avril Haines, the first woman to serve as Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was also announced as Biden’s pick for director of national intelligence.

Alejandro Mayorkas, another former official in the Obama administration, has been picked to lead Homeland Security. If confirmed, Biden’s team said he would be the first immigrant and first Latino to lead the department.

“They’re all good people, very professional and have been doing this for a long time,” one senior diplomat at the UN told Al Arabiya English.

“It’s a breath of fresh air having these types of individuals in such positions,” the diplomat added.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry will be Biden’s special envoy for climate, signaling the seriousness of climate change on Biden’s list of priorities.

The move was also welcomed among UN diplomats and officials. “Climate is a very important issue for us to work on,” the UN diplomat said, adding: “A new era of American diplomacy will be reinstated, and they will lead on so many issues.”

Biden has vowed to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, which President Donald Trump quickly withdrew from during his early days in office. Biden has proposed a $1.7 trillion plan to take the US, the world's second biggest carbon emitter, to net zero by 2050.

Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said Monday’s announcements signal that Biden will take a pragmatic, more moderate approach to US foreign policy. But he also noted that climate change would impact foreign policy as well.

“Climate change will truly be on the national security agenda for America,” Katulis told Al Arabiya English, signaling Kerry’s appointment as a special envoy.

As for US foreign policy in the Middle East, Katulis said it was too early to tell what the appointments could mean.

“Most of the Middle East policy questions do not rise to the level other urgent priorities, such as the pandemic response and global response to the economic constraints and China,” he said.

Katulis said that climate change would affect Washington’s relationship with key Middle East countries, which are also profoundly impacted by climate change. “There will be interest in [climate change] from Middle Eastern countries as well.”

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