Christopher R. Hill, President Barack Obama’s first choice for ambassador to Iraq, is a career diplomat who was Washington’s top nuclear negotiator with North Korea. He speaks three languages—Polish, Serbo-Croatian and Macedonian—but not Arabic, which is representative of his lack of Middle East experience or knowledge. This fact caused some Senate Republicans to oppose his nomination, but he was confirmed, 72-23, on April 21, 2009. However, his term in Iraq was relatively brief, ending August 15, 2010.
Born August 10, 1952, in Paris, France, Hill’s father served in the Foreign Service. He grew up in Little Compton, Rhode Island, and attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where he played lacrosse and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics.
His early Foreign Service work included tours at the US embassies in Belgrade, Warsaw, Seoul, and Tirana. He also served on the State Department’s policy planning staff and in the department’s Operation Center. While on a fellowship with the American Political Science Association, he served as a staff member for Congressman Stephen Solarz (D-New York) working on Eastern European issues. He also served as the State Department’s Senior Country Officer for Poland.
He received a master’s degree from the Naval War College in 1994.
Hill later served as special assistant to the President and senior director for Southeast European Affairs on the National Security Council. From 1996 to 1999, he was US ambassador to Macedonia. During this time, protesters attacked the American Embassy in 1999 over NATO air strikes in Yugoslavia to stop Serbian attacks against the Albanian enclave of Kosovo. Unlike most overseas missions, the US Embassy in Macedonia did not have any US Marine guards for security. The protesters quickly overran the embassy’s perimeter and began to use the embassy flagpole as a battering ram. When a top State Department official called Hill during the crisis to ask where his Marines were, Hill sardonically replied he didn’t have any—but thankfully there were Marines at the embassy in Luxembourg.
Also during his time as ambassador to Macedonia, Hill doubled as special envoy to Kosovo (1998-1999).
In 2000, he was appointed ambassador to Poland, serving until 2004, when he finally got his wish after several years of lobbying and became ambassador to South Korea. In Seoul, Hill broke with diplomatic precedent by visiting universities and with groups expressing fierce anti-American positions. He gave speeches and had debates with US critics, which won him respect among some South Koreans.
Just eight months into his assignment, Hill was named head of the U.S. delegation of the Six-Party Talks on North Korea to discuss the nuclear ambitions of Kim Jong-il’s regime. He was then promoted to Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in April 2005.