WASHINGTON (AP) — In a routine but necessary step toward smoothing its stormy relationship with Cairo, the White House on Thursday tapped a career diplomat to fill a nine-month vacancy as the U.S. ambassador to Egypt.
The choice of Ambassador Stephen Beecroft comes after several weeks of visits to Washington by high-level Egyptian officials seeking a new start with the U.S. after presidential elections in the Arab nation later this month.
Three years of revolution in Egypt, once the Arab world's strongest U.S. ally, have spawned violence among its people and backtracking by leaders on promises of democracy have spooked American supporters. Hundreds of millions of dollars in annual aid to Cairo has been withheld as the Obama administration and lawmakers in Congress warily watch to see whether Egypt's new government — and presidential front-runner Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi — can calm the country in upheaval and unsnarl its troubled economy.
Beecroft is currently the ambassador to Iraq, where he has been since October 2012 after serving as top U.S. envoy to neighboring Jordan. The current ambassador in Amman, E. Stuart Jones, is to be nominated to replace Beecroft in Baghdad.
The ambassador's job in Cairo has been empty since last August, when now-Assistant Secretary of State Anne Patterson returned to Washington to head the State Department's Mideast desk. Patterson had been in Cairo for two years and was the target of much criticism from Egyptians who accused her of taking sides in the country's political tumult.
Earlier, the Obama administration had considered naming Robert Ford, the former U.S. ambassador to Syria, to fill the Cairo post. But Ford, a longtime Mideast expert, was not nominated at the time because of some objections from Egyptian leaders who took power after the July 2013 ouster of then-President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-led government.
It's believed that Egypt's leaders will accept Beecroft's planned nomination, which must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.