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Nicholas Burns

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Littauer 374
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.

Professor Burns is on leave at Stanford University during Spring Semester 2016 where he is Annenberg Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Payne Distinguished Lecturer at the Freeman Spogli Institute and the William J. Perry Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation.

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 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, the Boston Committee on Foreign Relations 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

 

2016

AP

February 5, 2016

"The diplomatic case for America to create a safe zone in Syria"

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 James Jeffrey

In this Washington Post op-ed, two former U.S. ambassadors, Nicholas Burns and James Jeffrey, make the diplomatic case for America to create a safe zone in Syria. They advocate a much stronger American role to: 1) push for humanitarian corridors into Syria to help civilians under siege from the Assad government and rebel groups and some at risk of starvation; and 2) that the Administration reconsider its refusal to form a regional coalition to engineer a safe zone in northern Syria along the Turkish border where civilians can flee to safety enforced by a No Flight Zone in the same area and; 3) that we should commit American soldiers to help organize and police the zones in order to recruit the majority of the zone's soldiers from our allies and partners.

 

 

AP

January 19, 2016

"Talk to Tehran, but Talk Tough"

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 New York Times op-ed, Professor Burns relfects on the historic developments in the U.S. relationship with Iran, with the lifting of sanctions and the release of four U.S. prisoners.

Burns has been tracking the Iran nuclear issue since he worked on it as U.S. Under Secretary of State a decade ago. In his view, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry deserve great credit for having committed to diplomacy and negotiations with Iran two years ago.

The deal that they negotiated and that went into implementation in January 2016 will freeze Iran's nuclear efforts for the next ten to fifteen years. Burns believes it is a good deal for the U.S. and our allies.

At the same time, Burns writes, Obama and his successor will need to limit an Iranian government that is a force for violence and instability in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and elsewhere.

While Secretary Kerry is right to engage with Iran and challenge it to be a more productive actor on key issues such as Syria, we will also have to counter, with the support of the Gulf Arabs and Israel, the growing power of Iran's Revolutionary Guards in the region.

Professor Burns believes that we thus need to both engage Iran where possible and continue to contain the most dangerous aspects of its behavior.

 

2015

AP

November 15, 2015

With attacks, ISIS now a global worry

Magazine or Newspaper Article, Harvard Gazette

By Nicholas Burns, Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations, Harvard Kennedy School and Juliette Kayyem, Lecturer in Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School

In this interview with the Harvard Gazette, Nicholas Burns and Juliette Kayyem offer their respective views on the immediate lessons to be drawn from the brutal terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13.

Professor Burns says that this attack demonstrates clearly that the Islamic State has the reach and capacity to carry out complex, lethal terrorist operations well beyond its own region. In response, the U.S. and its Arab, Turkish and European partners must shift from seeking to contain ISIS to defeating it. That will require stronger and more assertive U.S. leadership than we have seen to date.  While the U.S. should not commit ground combat troops to this effort, we are the only country that has the influence and capacity to lead a broad international coalition to defeat ISIS at its base in northern Syria as well as in Iraq.

Professor Burns suggests how we might start to build such a coalition in this interview.

 

 

Justin Lane

September 2, 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

 
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.