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Michael McFaul, the 1981 Bozeman High School graduate who designed President Barack Obama's policy to "reset" once rocky relations with Moscow, is reportedly the president's choice to be the next U.S. ambassador to Russia.

Obama plans to nominate McFaul, 47, his top Russia expert, The New York Times reported last week, citing administration officials who declined to be identified before the formal announcement.

The Washington Post, reporting that it confirmed the story, called McFaul a trusted Obama advisor who helped engineer the repair of U.S. relations with Moscow, while still "frequently chiding Kremlin leaders for backsliding on democratic reforms."

Attempts to reach McFaul for comment were unsuccessful.

However, in Bozeman, his mother, Helen McFaul, said she was very proud.

"It's a pretty big deal," she said. "I never thought I'd be the mother of an ambassador."

If confirmed by the Senate, McFaul would be the first non-diplomat in three decades to be the chief U.S. representative to Moscow, the Post reported. The position has been held by John Beyrle since 2008.

McFaul was one of four Bozeman High alumni and one honorary alumni who were the first inducted in the school's new Hall of Honor last September during the dedication of the school's reconstruction.

McFaul came out from Washington, D.C., for the event, even though a key Senate vote was taking place on a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Moscow that he said he'd worked on for "thousands of hours."

"Without question, the two years I spent at Bozeman High were absolutely critical in my life," McFaul said then. "Without that, the rest wouldn't have happened."

He recalled how, as a junior transfer from Butte, he signed up for a debate class with Bozeman High teacher Bob Adams that changed his life. McFaul got hooked and joined the debate team, which that year was debating U.S. trade with the Soviet Union. He ended up getting into Stanford University, studying in Russia, and becoming a Stanford political science professor. He was in Russia when the Soviet Union collapsed.

He also gave credit to English teacher Mike Durney for helping him learn to write, and noted, "Now I write for a living."

In the Obama administration, McFaul has been special assistant to the president and senior director of Russian and Eurasian affairs at the National Security Council.

He worked on the treaty that allows the U.S. military to fly half its supplies and soldiers over former Soviet countries to the war in Afghanistan, instead of trucking them over roads in Pakistan plagued by bombings. He also helped negotiate Russian support for United Nations sanctions against Iran.

The Times reported that Obama told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev of his plan to nominate McFaul when they met last week in France, and that afterward, Medvedev shifted his public stand on Libya and agreed that Col. Moammar Gadhafi has "lost his legitimacy" and "must leave."

McFaul's mother said she worked for Montana State University's Alumni office for 26 years and her husband, Kip McFaul, was a musician. Both are retired.

If her son is posted to Moscow, she said, "I guess I'll have to get my passport."

Gail Schontzler can be reached at or 582-2633.

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