2022 Emerging Leaders

Samantha Sutton

Played an important behind-the-scenes role across three presidential administrations as an adviser on U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinians.

Dealing with the intractable, volatile issues of the Middle East is always difficult for U.S. foreign policy officials. But helping shape and navigate U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinians during three different presidential administrations has been an especially challenging task. 

That’s what Samantha Sutton, a career civil servant at the State Department, has helped achieve. As a senior political advisor with the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and now chief of staff to the U.S ambassador to Israel, the 34-year-old Sutton has provided important policy advice, built key contacts in the Middle East and provided a sense of continuity through the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations. 

“Her strategic thinking, excellent communication skills and extraordinary diplomatic outreach has substantially helped support and defend key priorities for the United States at the United Nations and avoided conflicts along the way,” said Rodney Hunter, a State Department political counselor who was Sutton’s supervisor at the U.N. 

“Sam provides real leadership and guidance to people across the U.S. government, from White House officials to Cabinet-level U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations and to the U.S. ambassador to Israel,” Hunter said.  

Israel is America’s closest partner in the Middle East and has counted on the United States as a guarantor of its security, while the U.S. relies on Israel’s military and intelligence expertise in the region. A long-standing U.S. priority has been to promote a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to encourage increased cooperation between Israel and the Arab  and Muslim states. 

Thomas Nides, President Joe Biden’s ambassador to Israel and a former member of the Partnership for Public Service’s board of directors, credited Sutton’s knowledge of Middle East issues with helping him hit the ground running.  

“As a new ambassador, having someone who has been in the region and understands the culture is enormously important,” Nides said. “She has been involved in the peace process and Palestinian-Israeli activities, and she has a wealth of knowledge.” 

Most of Sutton’s achievements have been behind-the-scenes.  

For example, in 2019, she helped facilitate the rollout of the Trump administration’s plan to normalize Israeli relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain called the Abraham Accords. A year earlier, she helped draft and develop a strategy to support the U.N. resolution condemning Hamas as a terrorist organization. The measure was defeated in the U.N. General Assembly by a single vote after having been expected to fail by a much larger margin. 

Sutton also helped maintain relations through back channels with the Palestinians and skeptical foreign allies after the U.S. formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in late 2017, announcing plans to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and cutting aid to Gaza and the West Bank in 2018.  

Sutton’s diplomatic skills, moreover, were instrumental in helping defuse a growing crisis in the fall of 2021 between the Palestinians and Israel in Gaza by moving quickly to organize meetings at the U.N. Security Council, coordinate talks with the combatants and help avoid a larger conflict.  

“The first crisis I was engaged in occurred barely two months after I arrived, and that was the Gaza and West Bank conflict,’” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “Sam gave me information I needed to respond in the Security Council, to push back and to give in when I needed to give in. If anyone gets the credit for the success there—  and there was—it should be Sam.”   

One of Sutton’s biggest challenges was keeping the work moving forward across administrations with different foreign policy perspectives as well as dealing with a changing political landscape in Israel.  

“Having served three administrations, she knows all of the history, who we can depend on for support, what did we do wrong the last time around that we can learn from and what can we do differently this time around,” said Thomas-Greenfield. “You want people like her who have developed those relationships over an extended period of time and garnered the respect of her counterparts.” 

Sutton has accumulated extensive experience during a decade with the State Department. Starting as an intern, she later worked at State’s Israeli-Palestinian negotiations office. Subsequently, Sutton worked for former Secretary of State John Kerry, several U.S. ambassadors to the U.N. under former President Donald Trump and now in the Biden administration. In her latest role as chief of staff to Ambassador Nides, Sutton supports the U.S. mission in Israel and helps manage the 1,500-member embassy staff. 

Sutton is enthusiastic about her work, which she sees as helping promote peace in the Middle East and strengthening America. 

“I am committed to public service, working for the U.S. government to further U.S. interests and policies,” Sutton said. “It’s really something that I hope to dedicate the rest of my life to. I can’t imagine being anything other than a public servant.”