Biden settles on ambassador picks for China, India and Japan

Josh Lederman, Carol E. Lee, Monica Alba and Kristen Welker

President Joe Biden has decided on his picks for key ambassadors to China, Japan and India and expects to announce them in the coming weeks as he prepares for his first overseas trip next month, three administration officials tell NBC News.

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been offered the role of U.S. ambassador to Japan. NBC News first reported in February that Biden was considering Emanuel, a former chief of staff in the Obama White House, for the job.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has been offered the ambassadorship in India, according to the officials. Garcetti, a Democrat, has been mayor since 2013.

And former Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns has been offered the job as Biden's envoy to China. Burns, a longtime U.S. diplomat, has served under presidents of both parties, and was previously U.S. ambassador to NATO and to Greece, as well as serving as State Department spokesman.

The decisions come as Biden is under increasing pressure to fill out his top diplomatic ranks that are still mostly vacant more than four months after he took office, and with a growing number of foreign policy crises demanding U.S. attention.

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Two administration officials say one reason for the delay has been concerns about making good on Biden's commitment diversity, with the administration waiting to roll out a larger slate of nominees all at once rather than a list of all men. Although Garcetti is Mexican-American, many of the ambassador nominees whose names have emerged publicly so far have been white men.

The White House declined to comment and said no picks are final until formally announced.

All three nominees, if confirmed by the Senate, will serve in critical roles as the Biden administration seeks to shift the focus of U.S. foreign policy to Asia and the growing challenges posed by China.

India, the world's largest democracy, is a key partner for the U.S. in South Asia as the U.S. military pulls out of Afghanistan, and is also in the throes of a COVID-19 outbreak that has devastated the nation even as vaccines are lessening new infections and deaths elsewhere.

Japan, a U.S. treaty ally, is used to having high-profile ambassadors send from Washington and is also a key U.S. partner in confronting North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.

The three picks to serve in Asian capitals contrast with a slower selection process for ambassadors to other parts of the world.

Earlier this week, NBC News reported that Biden has selected former Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides to be U.S. ambassador to Israel, although vacancies as top U.S. diplomat to many other Middle East countries remain unfilled.

Other selections remain works in progress. NBC News has also reported that Cindy McCain, the wife of the late Sen. John McCain, is under consideration for ambassador to the United Nations World Food Programme in Rome and that former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has been under consideration for ambassador to Mexico. Retired pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger is also under consideration for ambassador to the International Civil Aviation Organization, based in Montreal.