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Top U.S. Diplomat Resigns After Trump’s Withdrawal From Paris Climate Accord

Then-Deputy Chief of Mission of U.S. Embassy Beijing David H. Rank delivers his opening remarks for the 14th Plenary Session of the China-US Joint Liaison Group on Law Enforcement Cooperation (JLG) at the Diaoyutai State Guest House in Beijing, Monda

Then-Deputy Chief of Mission of U.S. Embassy Beijing David H. Rank delivers his opening remarks for the 14th Plenary Session of the China-US Joint Liaison Group on Law Enforcement Cooperation (JLG) at the Diaoyutai State Guest House in Beijing, Monday, Nov. 21, 2016. Andy Wong/AP

When President Trump withdrew from the Paris climate accord, University of Illinois alumnus David Rank decided to hand in his resignation. He was the senior U.S. diplomat in China and served in the U.S. Foreign Service for 27 years. He talks to NPR's Robert Siegel about the decision to leave.



What makes you quit a job that you love, one that you've committed nearly 30 years of your life to? Well, for David Rank, it was something that his boss did. When President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Agreement on climate change, David Rank decided to hand in his resignation.

Rank was the senior U.S. diplomat in China. He served in the U.S. Foreign Service for 27 years. He wrote about his decision to leave the State Department in The Washington Post, and he joins us now to talk about it. Welcome to the program.

DAVID RANK: Thanks, Robert.

SIEGEL: You wrote that when President Trump decided to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, you concluded that you could not in good conscience be involved in any way. Was withdraw from Paris the worst act of foreign policy you were confronted with taking part in in 27 years?

RANK: Oh, I'm not - that's a tough call. But I will say it kind of hit the big three for me. It was I think a mistake from a foreign policy perspective. It was a mistake from my perspective as a parent who's got kids. And you know, I spent my career trying to make the world a little better for them. And then finally, from a very personal moral perspective, I think it was the wrong thing to do.

SIEGEL: Yes. You wrote that you acted as a parent, a patriot and a Christian. Well, why as a Christian?

RANK: I think it's important to explain the fullness of my reasoning. And I think sometimes people are I think afraid, shy, just unwilling to talk about that aspect of their lives.

SIEGEL: As a diplomat, you served under presidents of both parties, people who sometimes had some different ideas about foreign policy. If you were advising a young foreign service officer, how would you describe when you think that foreign service officer ought to swallow his or her own views in deference to policy from Washington and when it's time to quit rather than do something you can't abide?

RANK: I would think every day of your career, you will find some policy that you disagree with. I mean that's just part of life, and I think that's a good thing. I think for most people, particularly in the early stages of their career, there is lots of work and lots of very honorable work to be done implementing policy but talking to the people in your chain of command to say, look; this will have negative consequences; this is not a good thing for the United States. And I think that's a really important contribution that a young foreign service officer or any government official can make.

SIEGEL: Prior to the withdraw from the Paris Agreement or, for that matter, prior to President Trump's inauguration, had you been planning on retirement? Had you been thinking this was your last lap?

RANK: I think everyone thinks about retirement. I've got a say, over 27 years, we've moved 14 times. It takes a toll on a family. You know, I missed the birth of one of my kids and the death of my parents. And so sure, everyone I think when you get to the stage I was in my career thinks about retirement, particularly since once you're at the senior levels, you serve directly at the whim of the president and you speak for the president. And so the choices are I think a little more stark.

SIEGEL: You outlined in your op-ed piece, some of your biggest worries facing the country apart from climate change. And you wrote of the erosion of the bipartisan consensus on the need for U.S. leadership. Explain that concern.

RANK: Sitting where I was in China, the decision - and it was a bilateral decision - to oppose the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was an extension of what had been a bipartisan policy of promoting U.S. trade and the rules of global trade that had really benefited our country enormously over the last 70 years.

SIEGEL: Now, the president's announcement of withdraw from Paris was pretty close to announcement of saying this leading other countries business - it doesn't always - it's not always best for us right now. Only what's good for America first right now is what I'm going to do.

RANK: Again, Robert, I look at the history of U.S. leadership, and it has been enormously good for the United States. And if you look at the history of global relations, someone will end up leading. And if it's not us, it will be another country.

SIEGEL: The embassy in Beijing is - how many people work at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing?

RANK: In the embassy in the in the five consulates around the country, there are more than 2,000 employees.

SIEGEL: Two thousand - you held a town meeting. It sounds odd, but it was a town meeting for State Department employees there. What did you hear from people at that? What kind of questions did younger or more junior State Department colleagues have for you?

RANK: Well, it was called a town hall. But it was really just me explaining my decision. I wanted to, as I was leaving - one, I wanted to say goodbye to my team, some of whom I'd worked with over the course of the last 20 or more years. But I wanted to explain my motivations, but I also wanted to make sure the importance that even though I was leaving on principle, it's an honorable thing to remain. Work of diplomacy and work of advancing American interests overseas will always be there, and it will always be honorable work. So I urged them to stay.

SIEGEL: What do you do next?

RANK: Right now I'm taking a little bit of time to see the country I have not spent a lot of time in over the last 30 years. I bought a used car, and my wife and I drove out West. We're now on the farm she grew up on. And we're going to visit family and friends as we make our way to the western part of the country.

SIEGEL: Yeah. How many of the past 27 years did you spend out of the country?

RANK: About 17 of 27.

SIEGEL: So what's so strange about the U.S. now? (Laughter) What do you find surprising?

RANK: You know, it's - I get up in the morning. The air is terrific, drinking water straight from the tap. We have great food from all around the world. It is really a delightful place to live. And I'm looking forward to spending time here.

SIEGEL: Well, thanks so much for talking with us today...

RANK: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: ...About your decision. You have no - I'm not hearing any second thoughts, whatever, about...

RANK: I will - I mean I will have second thoughts every day of my life because I loved the job. I loved the people. I loved doing the work. But like I say, I'm delighted to be back in the U.S. as well.

SIEGEL: David Rank, who was deputy chief of mission and for a few months this year acting U.S. ambassador in China - he resigned from his post in Beijing after President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Thanks so much for talking with us today.

RANK: Thank you, Robert.

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