Foreign Service Officer Robert Orris Blake, Jr, who is currently the United States' Ambassador to Sri Lanka, before which he served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in New Delhi from 2003 to 2006, is the top contender for the post of the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, currently held by diplomat Richard Boucher.
Sources told rediff.com that US President Barack Obama would shortly nominate him and submit his name to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where his confirmation is expected to be a mere formality.
According to sources, Blake and senior Congresssional staffer Jonah Blank, chief South Asia policy advisor to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, now chaired by Senator John F Kerry, had been the front-runners for the post. Blank, who was the key aide to the erstwhile chairman of the Senate panel and now Vice President Joseph Biden, lobbied feverishly for the post, but lost out to Blake.
"Bob's got a superb track record, he's extremely likeable and personable, and he's got all that experience and expertise in India and Sri Lanka, two of the major postings in South Asia, and above all, he's a solid career professional," he said.
"He has years of experience in two of the most difficult and complex postings in the region and so it will be a solid appointment. He will be well received by the department, because they do like to see career officers also appointed to the assistant secretary positions, not just political appointees," the source added.
Boucher, when queried about who would succeed him, conceded that "there are a lot of rumours." He told rediff.com that until a successor is named and confirmed by the Senate, "I will stay as per normal practice -- I'll stay till until my replacement's ready."
Boucher -- a longtime career diplomat who was also State Department spokesman for many years through Democratic and Republican administrations said that retirement was one of the options before him.
He added on a serious note, "We're in this to serve our country and as long as I can serve my country, I'll keep doing this and when it's time to do something else, I'll do something else. I don't know where I'll end up this time."
Before his current Colombo and earlier Delhi stints, Blake has served in the American Embassies in Tunisia, Algeria, Nigeria and Egypt, besides holding several positions in the State Department in Washington.