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Ambassador William J. Burns

President, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Deputy Secretary of State (2011-2014); Under Secretary for Political Affairs (2008-2011); U.S. Ambassador to Russia (2005-2008); Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs (2001-2005)

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Known as America’s “secret diplomatic weapon,” Ambassador Bill Burns is the most distinguished and admired American diplomat of his generation. Throughout his legendary career, Ambassador Burns has been called upon by successive Presidents and Secretaries of State to tackle the most significant foreign policy challenges of the past three decades – from post-Cold War relations with Russia, to Middle East Peace, to the strategic partnership with India, to nuclear arms talks with Iran, the Arab Awakening, the Rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, and much more.

Ambassador Burns has had enormous impact and influence, in untold ways, on the most pressing issues around the globe. Burns is a diplomat’s diplomat with a terrifically rare mix of strategic vision and operational skill. More than most, Ambassador Burns understands not only where policy and global leadership intersect, but how to navigate the distance between Washington and capitals around the world. Ambassador Burns offers to audiences his candid observations about America’s role in a rapidly changing global landscape, strategy and statecraft in the 21st century, and invaluable lessons in leadership and negotiations for executives in boardrooms and situation rooms around the world.

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Bill Burns is the President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the oldest international affairs think tank in the United States. Ambassador Burns retired from the U.S. Foreign Service in 2014 after a 33 year diplomatic career. He holds the highest rank in the Foreign Service, Career Ambassador, and is only the second serving career diplomat in history to become Deputy Secretary of State.

Prior to his tenure as Deputy Secretary, Ambassador Burns served from 2008 until 2011 as Under Secretary for Political Affairs. He was Ambassador to Russia from 2005 until 2008, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs from 2001 until 2005, and Ambassador to Jordan from 1998 until 2001. Ambassador Burns’ other posts in the Foreign Service include: Executive Secretary of the State Department and Special Assistant to Secretaries Christopher and Albright; Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow; Acting Director and Principal Deputy Director of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff; and Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Near East and South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council.

Ambassador Burns speaks Russian, Arabic, and French, and is the recipient of three Presidential Distinguished Service Awards and a number of Department of State awards, including three Secretary’s Distinguished Service Awards, two Distinguished Honor Awards, the 2006 Charles E. Cobb, Jr. Ambassadorial Award for Initiative and Success in Trade Development, the 2005 Robert C. Frasure Memorial Award for Conflict Resolution and Peacemaking, and the James Clement Dunn Award for exemplary performance at the mid-career level.

Ambassador Burns earned a B.A. in History from LaSalle University and M.Phil. and D.Phil. degrees in International Relations from Oxford University, where he studied as a Marshall Scholar. He is the recipient of three honorary doctoral degrees. Ambassador Burns is the author of Economic Aid and American Policy Toward Egypt, 1955-1981 (State University of New York Press, 1985). In 1994, he was named to TIME Magazine's list of the "50 Most Promising American Leaders Under Age 40", and to TIME's list of "100 Young Global Leaders."

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    Iran Deal History ‘Littered with Missed Opportunities’

    Veteran diplomat and president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace William J. Burns talks to Charlie Rose about the historic challenges to the Iran nuclear deal and how the Obama Administration handled it.

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    The Secret Talks That Led To The Negotiations With Iran

    Host Renee Montagne speaks with former diplomat Bill Burns about the secret talks he initiated with the Iran that paved the way for the negotiations that produced the breakthrough nuclear deal.

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    William Burns Is President of the Carnegie Endowment for Int. Peace

    (Carnegie Endowment) – Bill Burns is president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the oldest international affairs think tank in the United States. Ambassador Burns retired from the U.S. Foreign Service in 2014 after a thirty-three-year diplomatic career. He holds the highest rank in the Foreign Service, career ambassador, and is only the second serving career diplomat in history to become deputy secretary of state.

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    What Would A Nuclear Deal With Iran Really Mean?

    Iran and six world powers have a framework on Iran’s nuclear program. Steve Inskeep talks to Williams Burns, who led an early round of negotiations with Iran during the Obama administration.

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    Opening Remarks to the 2015 Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference

    (Carnegie Endowment) – Opening Remarks from William J. Burns (as delivered)

    Good morning. Let me begin by congratulating Toby and his colleagues for putting together another extraordinary conference this year. It’s no small feat to organize the year’s wonkiest conference. But you all have it down to a science.

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    Festering Tensions Between India, Pakistan Threat to Global Security

    (Hindustan Times) – INTERVIEW

    William J Burns retired as the deputy secretary of state in 2014, and is currently the president of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, among the most influential think tanks in Washington DC. He has worked extensively on relations with India as well as Russia, Iran, and the Middle East. In an interview with Hindustan Times, Burns spoke on issues ranging from US government’s foreign policy to P5+1-Iran framework agreement.

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    The Fruits of Diplomacy With Iran

    Oped Contributor: In a perfect world, there would be no nuclear enrichment in Iran, and its existing enrichment facilities would be dismantled.

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    10 Parting Thoughts for America’s Diplomats

    By: William J. Burns

    As one of America's foremost diplomats hangs up his spurs, lessons from 33 years at the State Department.

    Diplomacy is not quite the world’s oldest profession, but it remains one of the most misunderstood. It’s a predictable and recurring habit to question its relevance and dismiss its practitioners, especially at moments like this, when international affairs are rocked by powerful and tumultuous transitions.

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    The White House's Secret Diplomatic Weapon

    (The Atlantic) – William J. Burns has been the secret weapon of U.S. secretaries of state for more than two decades, serving consecutively under three Republicans and three Democrats. So it came as no surprise that John Kerry wanted to be the seventh chief diplomat to lean daily on Burns, currently the country's highest-ranking career diplomat, by keeping him on as deputy secretary of state, a position to which Burns was appointed by Hillary Clinton.

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    The Invisible Man: Bill Burns And The Secret Iran Talks

    (Reuters) – The night before a round of high-stakes nuclear talks with Iran, U.S. President Barack Obama told his chief of staff he had "absolute confidence we have the right team on the field."

    Obama was not referring to his public negotiating team… Rather, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough recalled, Obama was talking about a secret group led by Bill Burns, Kerry's discreet, disciplined and self-effacing deputy.

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    Diplomat Who Led Secret Talks With Iran Plans to Retire

    (NY Times) – Washington – William J. Burns, a career diplomat who led the Obama administration's back-channel negotiations with Iran, plans to step down as the State Department's second-ranking official in October, administration officials stated on Friday. 

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    The 2014 Teddy Awards

    (TIME Magazine) – In a dismal political year, these Americans went far beyond the call of duty… a great career diplomat who retired this year: Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, who spent decades of quiet service making the world a safer place, from his time as ambassador to Russia to his recent work on the Iran nuclear negotiations. We need many more like him.

Ambassador Burns is one of the most admired strategists of his generation. Over his legendary career as a professional diplomat, Ambassador Burns has developed an unsurpassed understanding of today’s bewildering and rapidly shifting geopolitical landscape. His wisdom and counsel have been sought out by Presidents of both parties and businesses of all kinds from around the world. Burns shares with audiences his thoughts on the international landscape today, and how things may take shape as we head further into the 21st century.


Ambassador Bill Burns understands, like few others, the importance of strong leadership abroad, and its inherent connectivity to prosperity at home. For decades, Burns has practiced the art of quiet, steadfast leadership in some of the most challenging global markets.


Ambassador Burns has a proven record of successfully opening markets to American companies and attracting foreign investment to the United States. As Ambassador to Jordan, he helped negotiate the first U.S. bilateral free trade agreement in the Arab world, and only the fourth globally. As Ambassador to Russia, he received the State Department’s highest award for commercial diplomacy. And in the aftermath of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, he helped reframe and reshape American diplomacy to protect American economic interests and promote global economic recovery. Burns provides a vivid account of the crucial connection between global leadership and domestic well-being and a roadmap for the renewal of the American economy and America’s role in the world.


Ambassador Bill Burns has spent over three decades navigating the most crucial foreign policy challenges facing the United States. He has helped manage one of the most complex organizations in the world – an institution with 300 overseas posts, more than 70,000 personnel, and an overall budget over fifty billion dollars. And he has been recognized as one of his generation’s most effective and admired public sector leaders. Ambassador Burns draws on his vast and unique experience to share lessons in leadership and negotiations for executives in boardrooms and situation rooms around the world.


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  • “Since I met Bill in Moscow in 2005, I have admired his skill and precision…[I have] relied on him for countless delicate tasks – and each one he has handled with that same skill and precision.” – President Barack Obama

  • “He is smart and savvy, and he understands not just where policy should move, but how to navigate the distance between Washington and capitals around the world." - John Kerry

  • “Deputy Secretary of State William Burns…spent decades of quiet service making the world a safer place…We need more like him.” – TIME Magazine

  • “Bill Burns was everything [we were told] plus being one of the nicest guys in the world! Feedback was robustly positive. He impressed everyone with his experience, knowledge and his willingness to engage."

  • "I can see why he was so highly thought of that he failed in his first two attempts to retire. I hope I have the chance to work with him again in the future.”

  • "He’s a diplomat’s diplomat with this terrifically rare mix of strategic vision and operational skill. He really is the gold standard for quiet, head-down, get-it-done diplomacy.”  - John Kerry

  • "[Burns] has more than earned his place on a very short list of American diplomatic legends.” - John Kerry

  • "This guy is the real deal.…he has more than earned his place on a very short list of American diplomatic legends.” - John Kerry