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US president Barack Obama’s nomination of a scientist with an interest in development to a key State Department appointment may upgrade US science relations with the developing world.
The nomination of Kerri-Ann Jones for US assistant secretary of state for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs (OES) was sent to the US senate last week (25 June).
Jones will be the key shaper of US efforts in bilateral research agreements and thus programmes with developing countries.
A biochemist and formerly acting science advisor to the White House during Bill Clinton’s tenure, Jones combines scientific expertise and experience in diplomacy with a knowledge and interest in the developing world.
"This is a great appointment," says John Daly, an international science and technology consultant who knows Jones well. "She has a lot of international experience which is very much concerned with science and development."
Maria Otero, President Obama’s nominee for the job of undersecretary of state for democracy and global affairs, and to whom Jones will report, has stressed the importance of science diplomacy for US foreign relations.
At a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 25, Otero said Jones’ "long experience in science diplomacy itself will make her, I think, very powerful in this area".
The key foreign policy post usually goes to a career diplomat or political appointee and Jones’s nomination is seen as underlining President Obama’s strategy of appointing officials with sound technical expertise.
OES has been the lead bureau within the State department on climate change so Dr Jones would play a key role "in adapting and engaging science to monitor and engage with climate change and help build capacity in the developing world," says Vaughan Turekian, chief international officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Jones previously served as director of the National Science Foundation’s Office of International Science and Engineering where she supported programmes with developing countries. She was also involved in science diplomacy for the Clinton White House Office for Science and Technology (OSTP). Earlier in her career she served as a scientific advisor to USAID in India.
"Areas such as the Law of the Seas Convention, climate change and science and technology for development will fall under Kerri-Ann’s responsibility when she is confirmed for the post," Daly said.
Also of interest to the developing world will be Jones’ understanding of technologies to boost agricultural production to combat hunger.
Rita Colwell, former director of the National Science Foundation, told SciDev.Net that Jones is able to negotiate under difficult circumstances and has strong connections with the science institutions and organisations that were important during her work in the White House.
"The role of science in the State department is critical … [Jones] can be of tremendous assistance to secretary of state Hillary Clinton, and I think this will be a very important team."