Bush picks Rice to replace Powell

United States President George Bush has selected Condoleezza Rice, his National Security Adviser and trusted confidant, to replace Colin Powell as Secretary of State, officials said, in a major shake-up of the president’s national security team. Three other Cabinet secretaries also resigned.

Powell, a retired four-star general who often clashed on Iraq and other foreign policy issues with more hawkish members of Bush’s administration, said he was returning to private life once his successor was in place.

The Cabinet exodus promised a starkly different look to Bush’s second-term team. Rice is considered more of a foreign policy hardliner than the moderate Powell.

The White House announced Powell’s exit on Monday along with the resignations of Education Secretary Rod Paige, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham.
Veneman had said last week she wanted to stay.

Bush’s nomination of Rice is expected on Tuesday afternoon, a senior administration official said.

Stephen Hadley, now the deputy national security adviser, is expected to replace Rice at the White House, the official said.

Combined with the resignations earlier this month of Commerce Secretary Don Evans and Attorney General John Ashcroft, six of Bush’s 15 Cabinet members will not be part of the president’s second term, which begins with his inauguration on January 20. An administration that experienced few changes over the last four

years suddenly hit a high-water mark for overhaul.

Although there had been recent speculation that Powell would stay on, at least for part of Bush’s second term, he told reporters on Monday “I made no offer” to do so.

Known for his moderate views and unblemished reputation, Powell went before the United Nations in February 2003 to sell Bush’s argument for invading Iraq to skeptics abroad and at home. But Powell’s case was built on faulty intelligence that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Still, the former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairperson remained the most popular member of the administration, more so than Bush.

In a resignation letter dated on November 12, Powell told Bush that, with the election over, it was time to “step down ... and return to private life”.

The 35-year army veteran said he would stay on “for a number of weeks, or a month or two” until his replacement was confirmed by the Senate.

In an appearance at the daily state department midday briefing, Powell said he had a full end-of-year agenda. Asked what he plans to do next, the 67-year-old Powell said, “I don’t know.”

In a statement, Bush called Powell “one of the great public servants of our time”.

Rice (50) worked at the National Security Council in former President George Bush’s White House and went on to be provost of Stanford University in California before working in the current president’s 2000 campaign. Rice gave a flurry of speeches in political background states in the closing days of Bush’s re-election campaign. That drew criticism from Senator John Edwards, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, who accused Bush of “diverting his national security adviser from doing her job”.

United Nations Ambassador John Danforth, the former Republican senator from Missouri, whose name was circulated in earlier speculation for the job, described Powell as “a great person” and “an outstanding public servant”.

Powell, one of the architects of the 1991 Persian Gulf War in the administration of the first President Bush, often sparred with hard line administration officials such as Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over Iraq policy.

“Secretary Powell’s departure is a loss to the moderate internationalist voices in the Bush administration,” said New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, a former United Nations ambassador in the Clinton administration.

Powell drew praise from overseas, where he was clearly the most popular member of the administration.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair described Powell as “a remarkable man and ... a good friend to this country over a very long period”.

German Defence Minister Peter Struck called Powell’s retirement “regrettable” and described him as “a reliable partner in conversation in the area of defence policy”.

The resignations come as Bush faces major foreign policy challenges. The threat of terrorism looms, the fighting in Iraq continues with upcoming January elections in doubt, nuclear tensions remain with Iran and North Korea, and the Middle East

landscape has shifted with the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Paige (71) the nation’s seventh education secretary, is the first African American to serve in the job. He oversaw Bush’s signature education law, the No Child Left Behind Act.

Abraham (52) a former senator from Michigan, joined the administration after he lost a bid for re-election. Abraham struggled to persuade Congress to endorse the president’s broad energy agenda. Sources said he intends to stay in Washington, where he plans to work in private law practice.

Veneman (55) the daughter of a California peach grower, was the nation’s first woman agriculture secretary.

The resignations are on a par with what other presidents who have won second terms have experienced.

In Ecuador for a meeting of defence ministers, Rumsfeld said, “I have not discussed that with the president” when asked if he planned to resign.

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, attending a meeting in Hawaii, declined to say whether he, too, would resign—but told reporters he has not submitted a letter of resignation. “And when those decisions are made, I’d prefer to share it with the president first,” Ridge said. - Sapa-AP

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