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Top American diplomat in China resigns over Trump’s Paris climate treaty pull-out

David H. Rank, Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy Beijing, speaks during the celebration for Bao Bao moving into new home at the Dujiangyan base of the China Conservation and Research Center for Giant Pandas on March 24, 2017 in Chengdu, China.
VCG/VCG | Getty Images
David H. Rank, Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy Beijing, speaks during the celebration for Bao Bao moving into new home at the Dujiangyan base of the China Conservation and Research Center for Giant Pandas on March 24, 2017 in Chengdu, China.

America's top diplomat in China has resigned over President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the United States from a landmark climate change treaty, two sources told NBC News Monday.

Charge d'affaires David Rank was set to be replaced by former Iowa Gov. Terry Brandstad, who was confirmed as ambassador to China on May 22 but hadn't yet arrived to the post.

Rank, citing the Paris climate agreement, announced the resignation during a town hall meeting on Monday with embassy employees.

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In his speech to embassy staff, Rank explained his resignation saying he was asked to do something in support of a policy this past weekend that as a "parent, patriot and a Christian" he simply could not do in good conscience.

Former Amb. Dan Feldman, who most recently served as the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the U.S. Department of State, and was Ranks' supervisor for almost five years described him as a "quintessentially professional foreign service officer," calling him "thoughtful, calm, judicious, non-political" and the kind of person "you want representing the U.S. government abroad."

Feldman, who was a political appointee in the Obama administration, lamented the loss of Rank — and others like him — from the State Department, saying the administration was "losing incredibly gifted officers at a moment when the U.S. needed them more than any other time in recent history."

A State Department spokesperson confirmed Rank's departure to NBC News, but said he was "retiring," adding: "Mr. Rank has made a personal decision. We appreciate his years of dedicated service to the State Department."

Rank was a respected foreign service officer who joined the State Department in 1990. He served in Greece, Mauritius, Taiwan, Shanghai and Afghanistan, and spoke Mandarin Chinese, French, Dari (Afghan Persian) and Greek.

"Dave Rank is the best America has to offer," Scott Mulhauser, the former chief of staff at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, told NBC News. "There is a reason he's received ever-tougher postings from presidents and secretaries on all sides of the political spectrum — he's as savvy as they come, remains cool in crises, has impeccable judgement and always puts his country first. He is one of the finest officers and one of the most impressive people I've ever met."

Trump announced his decision Thursday to leave the Paris climate treaty, which was negotiated in 2015, took effect last November and seeks to prevent the earth's temperature from rising more than 3.6 degrees Farenheit — an increase that scientists warn could trigger devastating impacts.

Nearly 200 countries signed on to the non-binding accord. Only the United States, Syria and Nicaragua (which didn't think the agreement went far enough, environmentally) did not.

Trump claims the treaty was negotiated poorly and puts the United States at an economic disadvantage. "We will start to negotiate and we will see if we can make a deal that's fair," he said.