The top career US diplomat announced Thursday he will step down, dealing a blow to the State Department as the Trump administration confronts numerous international challenges, reports the AP. The State Department's third-ranking official, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Shannon, informed agency staffers that he will retire as soon as a successor for his Senate-confirmed post is chosen and ready to assume the job. Shannon is a near 35-year veteran of the US Foreign Service and was the most senior department official to remain in his job after the transition from the Obama to the Trump administrations. He served under six presidents of both political parties since 1984. In an interview, Shannon, who holds the rank of "career ambassador"—the highest in the foreign service—said he was retiring for personal and not political reasons.
He said the death of his mother late last year and his own 60th birthday last week contributed to his decision. But he also said he considered himself the "designated survivor" when former President Obama tapped him for the undersecretary post in February 2016. "I knew my job was also about helping this institution navigate the political transition, get across the river," he said. "And, once across that river, help this institution—the foreign service and civil service—be responsive to our elected leadership." Rex Tillerson said he had asked Shannon to stay on and acknowledged the departure would be a loss: "Thirty-five years of experience is not something you replace overnight." Of five "career ambassadors" on the job when Tillerson arrived at the State Department, only one remains and that diplomat is currently on sabbatical.