U.S. Ambassador to Moldova: Who Is James Pettit?

Sunday, August 03, 2014

On July 15, 2014, the Senate Foreign Relations committee heard testimony from James D. Pettit, whom President Barack Obama had nominated as U.S. ambassador to Moldova on May 22. If confirmed, it will be the first ambassadorial posting for Pettit, a career Foreign Service officer.


Pettit was born in North Dakota, moving to Hamburg, Iowa, with his family when he was 7 and to Council Bluffs, Iowa, at age 15. His father, Jack Pettit, was a Presbyterian minister. Pettit graduated from Lewis Central High School in Council Bluffs in 1974 and attended Iowa State University, graduating in 1978 with a degree in international studies and Russian. His first professional job after college was as a letter of credit specialist in the international division of First American Bank in Washington, D.C., beginning in 1979.


Pettit joined the Foreign Service in 1981, with his first posting as a consular officer in Guadalajara, Mexico. He got to put his Russian to work for the first time in 1983, when he was moved to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow as a general services officer and political officer.


In 1986, Pettit was sent to Taiwan as consular officer in the American Institute, which serves as a de facto embassy in that country. He returned to Washington in 1988 as a desk officer in the State Department’s Office of Cuban Affairs. In 1990, Pettit was moved to a similar role in the department’s Taiwan Coordination Office.


Pettit returned to Moscow as deputy consul general in 1992, serving there for two years. It was during that period that there was a constitutional crisis in Russia, with fighting in the streets. Pettit and his wife Nancy and two children, along with other embassy personnel, were forced to remain in an underground shelter for two days.


After that tour, he took a break to study at the National War College in Washington, where he earned an M.A. in National Strategic Studies in 1995. He remained in the capital, working first as director of the Washington Processing Center for the Soviet refugee program and beginning in 1997 as chief of the Post Liaison Division in Visa Services, which provides guidance and supervision to Foreign Service posts on visa matters and coordinates between posts.


In 1999, Pettit went to Vienna as the consul general in the U.S. Embassy to Austria. He returned to Moscow in 2003 in a similar role in the embassy there. Much of his time was spent working with American companies who had difficulties getting permission for their employees to travel to the United States. Pettit moved to Kyiv, Ukraine in 2007 as deputy chief of mission in the U.S. Embassy.


He returned to Washington in 2010 as deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, where he has served since.  


In 1981, Pettit married Nancy Bikoff.


Pettit speaks Russian, Spanish, German and Mandarin Chinese.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Official Biography

Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (pdf)

Being a Diplomat: Pettit Heads U.S. Largest Consulate (by Tom McMahon, Daily Nonpareil)

State Department Cables from Ukraine (WikiLeaks)

See all 16 comments


Ionas Aurelian Rus 5 years ago
The very recent public positions of ambassador Hogan have been, depending on one's point of view, adequate or good. Ionas Aurelian Rus
Ionas Aurelian Rus 5 years ago
Dereck Hogan has refused to meet with the leaders of the most pro-EU and pro-American parliamentary parties. I was told that Pettit's successor is going to be worse, and the person who told me that was right. All the best, Ionas Aurelian Rus
Ionas Aurelian Rus 5 years ago
James Pettit's successor as ambassador to Moldova, Trump's ambassador, Dereck Hogan, has already been too cozy to Dodon too, and has sometimes avoided showing his support for Moldova's EU membership. In an interview, he has shown so much appreciation of Russian culture that it is not surprising that when he was no. 2 in Azerbaijan, he did not learn the Azeri language. At least Pettit did make an effort to learn Romanian early.
Ionas Aurelian Rus 6 years ago
Igor Dodon privately agreed with the Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin that Alaska should again become a part of Russia. James Pettit knows or should know this, but he has apparently never told Dodon to stop agreeing with Rogozin on this issue. Ionas Aurelian Rus
Ionas Aurelian Rus 6 years ago
The fact that ambassador James Pettit has not been able to wean Igor Dodon away from Russian influences does not mean that it can not be done. Yet it is likely that the Russian authorities will annoy Dodon by keeping him at a distance even though Dodon wants to be Putin's useful idiot. Dodon's consultant/advisor Vladimir Bukarski is linked to the Mossad, and I bet that the Russian secret services know that. If it will become clear that the various Western intelligence services know this (and they do), the Russian authorities will have to keep Dodon at a distance. This is becaue if they would reward him, they would encourage duplicitary behavior among their current and potential satellites in the Near Abroad. In all of this, Pettit is a mere spectator. Yet I bet that not everyone at the U.S. embassy in Moldova is.
Ionas Aurelian Rus 7 years ago
Of course, James Pettit does not sympathize with Dodon, but with more pro-Western forces. He just desired to ingratiate himself with Dodon. Yet he recently subtly suggested that he would prefer the Socialists not to win a majority of the parliamentary seats in the 2018 elections. This was the appropriate position. Dodon is not open to becoming less pro-Russia, but other Socialists, including Zinaida Greceanii, are. Moldova's former Communist President, Vladimir Voronin, did not suddenly stop being pro-Russian in 2003-2007. It was just that he was disappointed by the Russian authorities (read Putin regime), and many Communists stopped being pro-Russia, and even sympathized with the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Voronin authorized without truly leading the country's more pro-Western course. Dodon can not be persuaded to stop being officially pro-Russian. He could change his position only after his party would be defeated electorally.
Ionas Aurelian Rus 7 years ago
When president Dodon recently came to complain to ambassador Pettit about the Ukrainian authorities' alleged sabotage and espionage in Moldova, ambassador Pettit agreed with him, even though what Dodon was factually wrong. The U.S. ambassador was simply acting in the spirit of a Trump administration that was considering eliminating or reducing the sanctions against Russia because of Russian imperialism in Ukraine. I also did not hear about ambassador Pettit complaining to Dodon about how Dodon's consultant/advisor Vladimir Bukarski went to a pro-separatist congress in the Odessa region in 2015 and supported pro-Russian separatism. When Pettit was no. 2 at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, he was, as the Wikileaks documents suggest, analytically more pro-Yanukovych than he should have been. (I am not saying that he was "pro-Russia" though.) The current American ambassador to Moldova needs to criticize Dodon's undemocratic and pro-Russian imperialism attitudes and behavior publicly. The goal should be to defeat the Socialists, not to coopt Dodon to a "crusade" against Russia. Ionas Aurelian Rus
Ionas Aurelian Rus 7 years ago
James Pettit was too accommodating toward Igor Dodon, the Socialist and very pro-Russian president of Moldova, before the latter was elected president in late 2016. His goal was to tame and coopt Dodon. It did not work and it could not have worked. Pettit has lately told Dodon privately not to be so pro-Russian. The ambassador reportedly privately thinks that Dodon is an asshole. Please pardon my language, but this reflects the word usage of my source rather than my own vocabulary.
mcv.- 7 years ago
Well written Pál Marosi, well written! În North America (they) don't even have a clue where Europe ends (nevertheless the difference between "Eastern Block" and "Eastern Europe").
Pál Marosi 7 years ago
I can only agree with most of the comments. As a Hungarian citizen I can say that these so called "professionals" from the US come here to Eastern Europe and they don't have a clue about local history. They make outrageous remarks insulting the host nations and their history. He calls Moldova a young country which can get advice from a 250 year old state like the USA, while in fact Moldova is older than the so called USA. Even my school's building is older than the USA. They lecture us on human rights, corruption and language diversity, while in fact they are not much better than most of the states. Just an example, Microsoft bribed Romanian gov. members and the USA did nothing against Microsoft. He is talking about language diversity, just to shine his Russian language knowledge in public events and television interviews. Hawaii and Puerto Rico have their own history and language. According to Mr. Pettit's "logic" one can ask why the US is there in those countries? I call upon my Romanian friends not rely blindly anymore on the USA.

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