US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with Puneet Talwar, center, a National Security Council official, and another adviser aboard a US Air Force C-17 during their return to Amman from a trip to Baghdad on March 24, 2013. Talwar will become the State Department's assistant secretary for political-military affairs. (AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Puneet Talwar, a longtime White House national security staffer and former adviser to then-Sen. Joseph Biden, was confirmed Thursday by voice vote to become the State Department’s new assistant secretary for political-military affairs.
The position had been filled in an acting capacity by Tom Kelly, who will return to his previous role as principal deputy assistant secretary.
Talwar will be taking over the bureau that manages US defense exports as well as serving as the bridge between the Defense Department and State. He most recently served as special assistant to President Barack Obama and senior director for Iran, Iraq and the Gulf states on the National Security Staff. He had been in that job since 2009.
“We in the PM Bureau are thrilled to have Assistant Secretary Talwar taking the helm, as the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs moves forward in its mission to integrate diplomacy and defense, and forge strong international partnerships to meet shared security challenges,” a State Department official said, commenting ahead of an official department statement.
Before joining the White House, Talwar had served as a senior staffer for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and adviser to then-chairman Biden. His personal connection with the committee continues, as his son recently served there as a summer intern.
During his December confirmation hearing before the committee, Talwar emphasized the need to maintain strong defense relationships internationally, but also the Political-Military (PM) Affairs bureau’s role in helping the US defense industry.
“PM is working hard to support the US defense industry because it is in our national security interest,” he said. “That’s why another high priority will be to advance export control reform if I’m confirmed. The goal of this effort is to prevent sensitive technology from winding up in the wrong hands while streamlining and clarifying the licensing process for defense sales.”
He also made a point of promising to improve relations between the agency and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“If confirmed, one of my main priorities will be to strengthen relations between the bureau and the committee,” he said. “One lesson I took away from my years of service on this committee is that the finest hours for American foreign policy invariably occur [when] the State Department and the committee are working together for the same end.” ■