Tillerson Loses Top Career Diplomat as Tom Shannon Retires

(Bloomberg) -- Rex Tillerson faces another key vacancy at the State Department after Tom Shannon, the State Department’s No. 3 official and a career diplomat known especially for his understanding of Latin America, announced his retirement.

Shannon, 60, told Secretary of State Tillerson Wednesday that he planned to depart after a replacement is identified, ending more than 34 years of government service, including a stint as acting secretary of state. During his time at the department, Shannon served as U.S. ambassador to Brazil along with postings in Caracas, Guatemala and the Organization of American States.

“I have decided that it is time to step aside” for personal reasons, Shannon said in a message to colleagues. “I do so confident in the next generation of Foreign Service leadership, and proud of what we have accomplished across four decades of American diplomacy.”

Shannon’s departure means Tillerson has another high-level opening at the department, which has been hobbled by delays in White House approval of proposed appointees, efforts to cut its budget as much as 30 percent and Tillerson’s slow-moving reorganization plan.

Without Shannon, only two out of nine positions listed on the State Department’s webpage of "senior officials" would be filled. Vacancies listed by the department include the under secretary for arms control, under secretary for economic growth, energy and the environment, and under secretary for management.

For Tillerson, who came to the State Department without diplomatic experience after serving as chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp., Shannon was a critical link to the career foreign service uneasy over his intentions and President Donald Trump’s “America First” outlook.

Venezuela Connections

Tillerson used Shannon for many tasks, including resolving minor irritants in the fraught relationship with Russia. He also was seen as a key interlocutor with Venezuela because he came to know its socialist leaders when he was based there, making him one of the few American diplomats who could get an audience with the anti-U.S. regime of President Nicolas Maduro.

Tillerson called Shannon a “walking encyclopedia” of State Department policy, according to Steve Goldstein, the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy.

“Tom Shannon’s an amazing man, he’s done an incredible job on behalf of the United States and he’s going to be missed,” Goldstein said.

Rejecting the notion that Shannon was leaving unhappy with the leadership of Tillerson or Trump, Goldstein said, “This is his day. People shouldn’t mar it or sully it by trying to infer other things.”

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