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State Dept. Names New Head of Near Eastern Affairs

A career Foreign Service officer with only limited experience in the Middle East is expected to be named as the State Department’s top official dealing with the Middle East.

However, neither the White House nor the State Department would confirm Thursday that President Bush plans to name John Kelly, now a member of the State Department’s policy planning staff and a former ambassador to Lebanon, as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs.

Unlike the man he replaces, Richard Murphy, Kelly is not considered an Arabist, despite his tour in Beirut in 1985-87.

Murphy, who left the State Department after 33 years in the Foreign Service, spoke Arabic and was considered the department’s most experienced hand in the Middle East.

The 49-year-old Kelly’s experience has been mainly in Europe and Asia. Since joining the Foreign Service in 1955, he has served in Turkey, Thailand, and France and at several State Department posts in Washington, including principal assistant secretary of state for European affairs.

Born in Fond du Lac, Wis., Kelly was reportedly selected as ambassador to Lebanon because the State Department wanted a bachelor for the dangerous Beirut assignment.

It was while in Beirut that Kelly received his only notoriety when then Secretary of State George Shultz learned that John Poindexter, then the national security adviser, had used Kelly as a channel in the Reagan administration’s secret effort to gain the release of American hostages in Lebanon through dealings with Iran.

Shultz, in testifying to the congressional committees investigating the Iran-Contra affair, said he summoned Kelly back to Washington when he learned about the ambassador’s involvement in the operation.

Kelly apparently satisfied Shultz that he had not known that the State Department was kept unaware of his participation.

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