WASHINGTON — Jon Huntsman, the U.S ambassador to Russia, will step down this fall, he told the president Tuesday.
In a letter submitted to President Donald Trump and obtained by POLITICO, Huntsman called it a “high honor” to have served in Moscow during a “historically difficult period in bilateral relations.”
The former Utah governor and diplomat under both Republican and Democratic administrations has held the post since the early days of Trump’s presidency. His resignation comes amid reports that he is considering launching a third gubernatorial run in Utah.
In the letter announcing his decision to step aside, Huntsman wrote that he had expressed his desire to both the president and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “to reconnect with our growing family and responsibilities at home” after more than two years on the job.
Huntsman’s resignation will take effect October 3, which he said he hopes will allow enough time for his replacement to be named and confirmed.
“I pledge my full effort in facilitating a smooth transition that ensures our foreign policy goals are kept in proper focus,” he wrote.
His decision to step down comes as relations between Washington and Moscow have cooled considerably. His tenure was marked by tit-for-tat sanctions and diplomatic expulsions, fallout from Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, and warnings that Moscow plans to do so again in 2020. The U.S. has also struggled with the Kremlin’s aggression in cyberspace and its role in other international affairs, notably in Venezuela and Syria, as well as new diplomatic forays with North Korea.
The ambassador did not sugarcoat conditions in Moscow, writing that “going forward, we must continue to hold Russia accountable when its behavior threatens us and our allies,” adding that “while much of what divides us is irreconcilable, there are common interests we cannot ignore. No reset or restart is going to help, just a clear understanding of our interests and values — and a practical framework for sustained dialogue.”
Failure to improve relations with Russia “is not an option” Huntsman said, citing issues like human-rights abuses and the need for an arms-control agreement after the deterioration of the longstanding Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.
He praised the work of “hundreds of talented, patriotic public servants who are themselves laboring under extremely difficult circumstances,” calling their work “in one of the world’s most forbidding environments” first-rate and worthy of “endless gratitude.”
CNN reported over the weekend that Trump had discussed Huntsman’s impending departure with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a phone call last week about Siberian wildfires.