March 30, 2012
The next U.S. ambassador to Latvia will be a career diplomat who has previously served in Estonia, a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Rīga announced March 30.
The U.S. Senate on March 29 confirmed Mark Pekala’s nomination as the new ambassador. He will replace Ambassador Judith G. Garber when her term expires at the end of July, said Kristīne Kreile, media specialist in the embassy.
Pekala was nominated by President Barack Obama.
Pekala since August 2010 has served as director of the Entry-Level Division of the U.S. State Department’s Human Resources Bureau. He also has served as the deputy chief of mission in Paris. From 2005 to 2007, he was deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, where he oversaw relations with 15 Baltic, Nordic and Central European countries.
Among other posts he has held, Pekala from 2002-2005 was deputy chief of mission in the U.S. Embassy in Estonia.
In his nomination testimony before the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, Pekala on March 21 said that as ambassador he would work to help American business expand in Latvia; continue Latvia’s engagement with other countries such as Moldova and Afghanistan; and foster dialogue between ethnic Latvians and minorities in the country.
Among issues Pekala noted in his testimony was Latvia’s history and the recent national referendum that, if successful, would have made Russian a second official language.
“Almost a third of Latvia’s residents are ethnic Russians, of whom just under 300,000 are non-citizens,” Pekala said, according to his prepared statement. “We are encouraged to see the Latvian government considering measures that would improve integration of this population; we hope that the recent language referendum can be used by both sides as a means to open a constructive dialog between ethnic Russians and ethnic Latvians.”
Pekala and his wife, Maria, have two young daughters.
Garber became the U.S. ambassador to Latvia in 2009.