03/06/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama Picks Non-Arabic Speaker As Iraq Ambassador

WASHINGTON — Christopher Hill, the Bush administration's lead negotiator with North Korea, is the leading candidate to become the next U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, officials said Monday.

Officials familiar with internal Obama administration discussions say that Hill, a career foreign service officer, has emerged as the most likely choice to replace Ryan Crocker as America's top diplomat in Baghdad.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss personnel decisions.

It was not immediately clear when the White House might announce Hill's nomination, but President Barack Obama spoke by phone to Iraqi officials earlier Monday, signaling the appointment may be near.

Hill, an expert in European affairs before taking on the North Korea portfolio, has little experience in the Middle East but is highly regarded in the diplomatic community.

Crocker, another career diplomat, is retiring after two years on the job during which he oversaw the civilian component of President George W. Bush's troop build up.

Hill has been the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs since April 8, 2005, two months after he was named to lead the U.S. delegation to the so-called six party talks on the North Korean nuclear issue.

He has served as U.S. ambassador to Poland in the George W. Bush administration. In the Clinton White House, he was the U.S. ambassador to Macedonia and special envoy to Kosovo.

Hill was part of the U.S. team that negotiated the Bosnia peace settlement. Before joining the foreign service, Hill volunteered for the Peace Corps, where he worked in Cameroon.

A graduate of Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Me., Hill holds a master's degree from the Naval War College.

Obama's consideration of Hill was first reported by ABC News on its Website.

The Washington Post adds that Hill does not speak Arabic, but is a "consummate dealmaker" who "won plaudits for his efforts in the face of opposition from within the Bush administration and the often frustrating negotiating tactics of the North Koreans."