State Department Loses Top Envoy to Europe as Vacancies Mount

(Bloomberg) -- The top U.S. diplomat for Europe is resigning after just 16 months on the job, creating another senior State Department vacancy at a time that the Trump administration has strained traditional alliances and raised doubts about its commitment to the European Union and NATO.

A. Wess Mitchell, the assistant secretary of state for European Affairs, said in a letter to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo that he was stepping down to spend more time with his young family. In a tweet on Tuesday, Pompeo said Mitchell, 41, had done an “outstanding job.”

Mitchell, who was confirmed in September 2017, was a key advocate for the administration’s controversial decision to court authoritarian governments such as Hungary’s. He argued that the U.S. finds itself waged in a struggle for influence against Russia and China in such countries, and must do what it can to keep them close.

Mitchell was brought into the administration under former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to weave that approach into the administration’s National Security Strategy. In his resignation letter, he said the “need to prepare our country and the nations of the West for for sustained competition with big-power rivals is both urgently necessary and long-overdue.”

He leaves at a time that the administration’s relations with Europe have only grown more strained. President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed his own skepticism about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the U.S. has angered allies over its decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. In a speech fleshing out Trump’s “America First” foreign policy strategy last month, Pompeo asked whether the EU was putting the interests of “bureaucrats here in Brussels” over those of its member countries’ citizens.

Mitchell had also dedicated a large part of his time in recent months to the U.S. relationship with Turkey, which frayed over the arrest of an American pastor and Turkey’s decision to buy a missile-defense system from Russia. It has since come under more pressure as a result of confusion over Trump’s announcement of a troop withdrawal from Turkey’s war-ravaged neighbor, Syria, and the future of its alliance with Kurdish militias in the country.

The departure will create yet another vacancy in a department that hasn’t managed to fill several key slots more than halfway through Trump’s term. The State Department has no confirmed assistant secretaries overseeing the Middle East, East Asia, South Asia or Political-Military Affairs, among others, while crucial ambassadorships around the globe remain unfilled.

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