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Nicholas Burns

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John F. Kennedy School of Government
79 JFK St.
Cambridge, MA, 02138

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Nicholas Burns

Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations, Harvard Kennedy School

Member of the Board, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

Contact:
Telephone: 617-495-2495
Email: nicholas_burns@hks.harvard.edu
Website: http://www.twitter.com/rnicholasburns
Publications: http://pages05.net/hks-belfercenter/forms/NicholasBurns

 

Experience

Nicholas Burns is the Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He is Director of the Future of Diplomacy Project and Faculty Chair for the Programs on the Middle East and on India and South Asia. He serves on the Board of Directors of the School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and is a Faculty Associate at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

Burns is Director of the Aspen Strategy Group, Senior Counselor at the Cohen Group, and serves on the Board of Directors of Entegris, Inc. He is a member of Secretary of State John Kerry’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board at the U.S. Department of State. He also serves on the boards of several non-profit organizations, including the Council on Foreign Relations, Special Olympics, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, the Atlantic Council, America Abroad Media, the Association of Diplomatic Studies and Training, the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, and the Gennadius Library. He is Vice Chairman of the American Ditchley Foundation and serves on the Panel of Senior Advisors at Chatham House: the Royal Institute of International Affairs.  He is a member of the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He is also a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Order of Saint John and Red Sox Nation.

Professor Burns served in the United States government for twenty-seven years. As a career Foreign Service Officer, he was Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from 2005 to 2008; the State Department’s third-ranking official when he led negotiations on the U.S.–India Civil Nuclear Agreement; a long-term military assistance agreement with Israel; and was the lead U.S. negotiator on Iran’s nuclear program. He was U.S. Ambassador to NATO (2001–2005), Ambassador to Greece (1997–2001) and State Department Spokesman (1995–1997).  He worked for five years (1990–1995) on the National Security Council at the White House where he was Senior Director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia Affairs and Special Assistant to President Clinton and Director for Soviet Affairs in the Administration of President George H.W. Bush. Burns also served in the American Consulate General in Jerusalem (1985–1987) where he coordinated U.S. economic assistance to the Palestinian people in the West Bank and before that, at the American embassies in Egypt (1983-1985) and Mauritania (1980 as an intern).

Professor Burns has received twelve honorary degrees, the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award, the Woodrow Wilson Award for Public Service from the Johns Hopkins University, the Boston College Alumni Achievement Award and the Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award from Tufts University. He has a BA in History from Boston College (1978), an MA in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (1980), and earned the Certificat Pratique de Langue Francaise at the University of Paris-Sorbonne (1977). He was a visiting Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in summer 2008.

 

 

By Date

 

2015

Credit Justin Lane/European Pressphoto Agency

September 1, 2015

What Should Obama Do Next on Iran?

Op-Ed, The New York Times

By Nicholas Burns, Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations, Harvard Kennedy School

In this op-ed for the New York Times, Harvard Kennedy School Professor Nicholas Burns ​predicts that President Obama will have the votes to pass the Iran deal through Congress​ in what will be the most "important [vote] since the decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003." The former U.S. Undersecretary of State maintains that President Obama should use coercive diplomacy to gain both bipartisan support at home and engender "an Obama pivot back to American leadership in the Middle East" that will stabilize the Middle East and protect American vital interests in the region.

 

 

August 5, 2015

"The Implications of Sanctions Relief Under the Iran Agreement"

Testimony

By Nicholas Burns, Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations, Harvard Kennedy School

Nicholas Burns testified on August 5, 2015, before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, on "The Implications of Sanctions Relief Under the Iran Agreement."


"Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Brown and members of the committee, thank you for this opportunity to testify on the international agreement to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons power and the implications for sanctions relief.

This is one of the most urgent and important challenges for our country, for our European allies as well as for Israel and our Arab partners in the Middle East.  The United States must thwart Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions and its determination to become the dominant military power in the region."

 

 

August 4, 2015

"The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the Military Balance in the Middle East"

Testimony

By Nicholas Burns, Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations, Harvard Kennedy School

Nicholas Burns testified before the Senate Committee on Armed Services on Aug. 4, 2015, on "The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the Military Balance in the Middle East."

"Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Reed and members of the committee, thank you for this opportunity to testify on the international agreement to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons power.

This is one of the most urgent and important challenges for our country, for our European allies as well as for Israel and our Arab partners in the Middle East. The United States must thwart Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions and its determination to become the dominant military power in the region."

 

 

July 29, 2015

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action

Testimony

By Nicholas Burns, Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations, Harvard Kennedy School

“This is one of the most urgent and important challenges for our country, for our European allies as well as for Israel and our Arab partners in the Middle East. The United States must do whatever it takes to thwart Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions and its determination to become the dominant military power in the region.

We should thus marshal our diplomatic, economic and military strength to block Iran now and to contain its power in the region in the years ahead.

With that strategic aim in mind, I support the Iran nuclear agreement and urge the Congress to vote in favor of it in September.”

 

 

AP

July 20, 2015

"An Expert View: Accept the Deal but Move to Contain Iran"

Magazine or Newspaper Article, Wall Street Journal

By Nicholas Burns, Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations, Harvard Kennedy School

Professor Nicholas Burns, a former point man on Iranian nuclear matters, talks with The Wall Street Journal's Washington Bureau Chief, Gerald Seib, about why he advocates effort to contain Tehran’s regional ambitions.

 

 

AP

July 14, 2015

"The deal is historic, but the US must now act to contain Iran"

Op-Ed, Financial Times

By Nicholas Burns, Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations, Harvard Kennedy School

In this July 15, 2015 Financial Times op-ed, Nicholas Burns reacts to the Iran nuclear deal announced yesterday in Vienna.

In it, he outlines his support for what he believes is a sensible agreement and is the best alternative available to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

But, he recognizes the drawbacks, including important questions about the strength of inspections and our ability to re-impose sanctions on Iran should that become necessary. He also warns that the U.S. will have to launch a long term containment effort against Iran given its assertive push for power in the heart of the Sunni world. 

Still, Burns believes, freezing Iran's nuclear program for the next decade is a better path for us than if we had walked away.  In that case, the sanctions regime would have likely frayed and the P-5 coalition against Iran would have weakened.  All of the current restrictions on Iran's nuclear program would also have been lifted.  Obama's deal is stronger than the "No Deal" scenario championed by many of his critics.

 

 

C-SPAN

July 14, 2015

Hearing: Implications of a Nuclear Agreement with Iran

Testimony

By Nicholas Burns, Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations, Harvard Kennedy School

Testimony of Ambassador (ret.) Nicholas Burns
Goodman Professor of Diplomacy and International Relations
Harvard Kennedy School
House Committee on Foreign Affairs
Washington, DC
July 14, 2015

 

 

AP

July 10, 2015

"Syria’s worsening refugee crisis demands action from the West"

Op-Ed, Washington Post

By Nicholas Burns, Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations, Harvard Kennedy School and David Miliband

Professor Burns and International Rescue Committee President (and former British Foreign Secretary) David Miliband co-authored this Washington Post op-ed on the desperate humanitarian disaster unfolding in Syria.

In it, they describe the extraordinary scale of violence and disorder in Syria today--over 220,00 people killed in the vicious civil war; over 11 million people--half the population- now homeless; civilians being assaulted by the brutal Syrian government and the odious Islamic State which occupies more than one third of Syria's territory. The response of the U.S. and other world powers has been woefully inadequate. Syria is clearly not a priority for Washington, Europe and most Arab countries.

Burns and Miliband recommend four decisive steps that should be taken by the U.S. and others.

 

 

AP

April 30, 2015

"Save Britannia"

Op-Ed, The Boston Globe

By Nicholas Burns, Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations, Harvard Kennedy School

In advance of the May 7 Parliamentary elections, there's debate about Britain's reduced role in the world.  With its military weakened, its influence waning in the European Union and a seemingly diminished will to lead and to work closely with the United States, Britain's many friends in the U.S. and around the world should hope that the coalition government that emerges from the elections will move to reverse these worrisome trend lines.

 

 

AP

April 16, 2015

"The Iran deal’s rare achievement"

Op-Ed, The Boston Globe

By Nicholas Burns, Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations, Harvard Kennedy School

In this article, Professor Burns reflects on the last decade of American attempts to negotiate with Iran. What neither party really wants to admit is that both of them were critical in getting the U.S. to this point. Democrats don't give President George W. Bush enough credit for having made the decision a decade ago to seek talks with Iran on the nuclear issue. And, Republicans can't bring themselves to acknowledge that President Barack Obama strengthened Bush's sanctions in a very effective way to induce Iran to negotiate.

While the two parties joust over Iran, it is in the interest of both to find a way to coalesce as the U.S. will be negotiating with Iran on a deal and its implementation for well beyond the next decade.  As Congress inserts itself into the negotiations this week, it would be wise to do so in a way that strengthens, rather than weakens, the President's hand in the tough talks ahead with Iran.

Finally, Professor Burns notes that is is worth remembering how far we have come to reach a possible final agreement with Iran. After nearly thirty five years of bitter separation from Iran, it is smart and useful for Americans to be at the negotiating table with Iranians trying to work out our many differences rather than see them play out on a distant battlefield.

 
Events Calendar

We host a busy schedule of events throughout the fall, winter and spring. Past guests include: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former Vice President Al Gore, and former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev.