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Top NSC official for Europe is leaving

An architect of President JOE BIDEN’s Europe policy is ending her time at the National Security Council, leaving the administration amid deep uncertainties about Ukraine’s future.

AMANDA SLOAT has been a quiet but key figure of the Biden administration’s efforts to mend relationships with traditional allies and counter Russia. From the transition team to her current role as senior director for European affairs, she drafted key pillars of the new team’s transatlantic strategy and accompanied Biden on eight trips to Europe, including for five NATO summits and two EU summits. She was also the driving force behind elevating the “Bucharest Nine,” a group of Eastern European NATO countries brought together to steel the region.

U.S. officials say that her efforts serving a transatlanticist president are a main reason why relations with Europe markedly improved. But after being in the hottest of hot seats for so long, Sloat is looking to cool it.

“It has been an amazing three years, but it’s time. I’m tired,” she told NatSec Daily in a Thursday morning interview confirming her departure. Sloat will be in Chicago with her family for Thanksgiving — her brother-in-law, a professional chef, will contribute to the feast — before traveling to India to focus on yoga and Ayurveda. She’s looking forward to not thinking about or being in Europe for a while. Sloat, who’s last day is next Friday, intends to be back from travel in January, refreshed and ready for her still-unclear next challenge.

Sloat’s tenure at the NSC was dominated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. She spent months on little sleep coordinating a response with European allies and warning Ukrainian counterparts that VLADIMIR PUTIN planned for a full-scale assault. U.S. officials have said Sloat ensured the transatlantic response was aligned and robust, leading to billions in military and economic support for Kyiv.

Not everyone is happy with the administration’s policy. They contend more advanced weaponry should have been sent to Kyiv in the war’s earliest days, pointing to Ukraine’s sputtering counteroffensive as evidence. And they also questioned the wisdom of the U.S. allowing the construction of the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream 2 pipeline to finish, a decision that Germany reversed after the war started.

Sloat went through some challenging moments. Administration officials have said that she, like many of her coworkers, were caught off guard by the U.S.-U.K.-Australia nuclear submarine deal known as AUKUS. Officials said that Sloat was incensed by being left out of the loop as the agreement came together. After the arrangement was announced, she had to field angry calls from France, which saw its own sub-pact with Australia scrapped.

She handled the situation well, colleagues said, and French President EMMANUEL MACRON later went to the White House for a state visit.

Sloat leaves at a precarious time. Continued support for Kyiv is in doubt not only in the U.S. but also in Europe, where some leaders contend there’s no use in providing more military aid when a Ukrainian victory isn’t assured. Her departure follows other top NSC officials, such as Russia lead ERIC GREEN, leading some administration officials to fear too much institutional memory is walking out the door.

Sloat doesn’t see it that way: “We have a lot of people across the interagency who remain in place, and I’ve got a strong team here that has been working on these issues for a while.

National security adviser JAKE SULLIVAN had nothing but praise for Sloat.

“Amanda has been an invaluable part of the president’s team since even before day one, when she triaged the congratulatory calls coming in from leaders around the world. We have relied on her expertise and counsel every day since, especially her leadership in rebuilding transatlantic unity and galvanizing unprecedented support for Ukraine,” he said in a statement.

HUMANITARIAN PAUSES SECURED: It looks like the Biden administration’s diplomacy is paying dividends: Israel will begin to implement short humanitarian “pauses” each day in the fighting in northern Gaza.

Starting today, the four-hour “pauses” in operations in Gaza will allow humanitarian aid to flow into the area and civilians to get out of harm’s way, National Security Council spokesperson JOHN KIRBY told reporters, as our own LARA SELIGMAN reports.

Biden pressured Israeli Prime Minister BENJAMIN NETANYAHU to pause the fighting for humanitarian purposes, and Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN, national security adviser Sullivan and Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN have also spoken with their counterparts about the issue, Kirby said.

But the agreement falls far short of Biden’s ask for a pause “longer than three days” to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza.

Israel has already opened a “humanitarian corridor” allowing civilians to flee the hostilities, and plans to open another along the coast so people can reach safer areas in the south of the country, Kirby said. The destruction caused by a month of intense fighting is unprecedented, a senior official at the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees told our own PAULA ANDRÉS, as it seeks nearly $500 million in emergency funding to care for 730,000 people who have been driven from their homes.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority informed the Biden administration that it would be open to a governance role in the region after the Israel-Hamas war — an option the White House supports — if the U.S. backs a two-state solution, a top official in the group’s parent organization told The New York Times’ MARK LANDLER.

As the Israeli conflict draws attention away from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Kyiv’s push for a high-level summit aimed at bolstering international support by year’s end is losing steam, Western diplomats told The Wall Street Journal’s LAURENCE NORMAN.

WAGNER WAGER: Ever since Wagner Group head YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN was killed in a mysterious plane explosion in August, the fate of his Russian paramilitary force has been a mystery. Now, it looks like there’s a plan for them.

Russia’s military is trying to recruit Wagner soldiers in an attempt to avoid pulling in citizens and salvage what’s left of the group’s fighting potential, former fighters and military bloggers told The New York Times’ ANATOLY KURMANAEVEKATERINA BODYAGINA and ALINA LOBZINA.

Four Russian inmates who fought with Wagner received calls and messages offering new contracts in recent weeks. They were urged to enlist in Rosgvardia, Russia’s militarized national guard, according to the reporting. “Wagner is officially becoming a unit of Rosgvardia,” read a recruitment text. “The entire structure, methods of work and commanders remain the same.”

A second mobilization could sow discontent among the Russian public, which Putin would likely prefer to avoid.

While manpower could be a problem for Moscow in the war, money doesn’t appear to be. The Kremlin raked in an extra $1.1 billion for its war effort this year after Russia’s largest private oil firm exploited loopholes in EU sanctions rules with help from Bulgaria, our own VICTOR JACK reports.

STRIKE TO DE-ESCALATE: The United States’ airstrike on an ammunition dump used by Iranian-backed militia groups on Wednesday was aimed at de-escalating tensions in the Middle East, NSC spokesperson Kirby said today.

“Nobody’s after escalation here. What we’re trying to do is de-escalate and deter, and that’s the focus of not only these strikes in Syria, but the force posture moves we’ve been making in the region,” Kirby said on MSNBC. A U.S. surveillance drone was also shot down over the Red Sea by Yemen’s Houthi forces on Wednesday.

The two attacks are an unmistakable sign of increasing violence amid a U.S. military buildup in the region — including the dispatch of two aircraft carrier strike groups, a Marine rapid response unit, fighter squadrons and air defenses — to protect U.S. bases, our own PAUL McLEARY reported Wednesday evening.

FBI IN THE ‘BURBS: The FBI chose Greenbelt, Maryland as its new home on Wednesday, relocating from its Washington headquarters to a proposed site in the neighboring state’s suburbs. The move is the culmination of a decade-long effort to find the nation’s top law enforcement agency a new HQ that would adequately meet its modern-day security demands.

Source : Politico