o no?

November 16th, 2004  

Topic: o no?

Following the resignation yesterday of US Secretary of State Colin Powell, President Bush is expected to nominate a successor as early as today, with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice tipped by senior administration officials to succeed him, writes Conor O'Clery, North America Editor, in New York.

Mr Powell was one of four top officials to resign yesterday, bringing to six the number of cabinet members to quit as Mr Bush puts together a new administration following his re-election.

Others stepping down are Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and Education Secretary Rod Paige. Attorney General John Ashcroft and Commerce Secretary Don Evans have already announced their intentions to leave the administration.

Mr Powell served notice he was resigning in a letter to President Bush dated last Friday and released yesterday after he and Mr Bush met in the White House.

"As we have discussed in recent months, I believe that now that the election is over, the time has come for me to step down as Secretary of State and return to private life," wrote Mr Powell (67), in his four-paragraph letter.

Mr Powell told reporters later that he and and the President came to a "mutual agreement" that it was time for him to resign.

"I assure you, I'll be working hard until the very, very end," he said, adding that he expected to remain in office for a few weeks or a month while his successor awaits approval by the Senate.

The Secretary of State sought to play down his resignation, telling reporters "it had always been my intention to serve one term" and that he was not departing immediately. Officials said his deputy, Mr Richard Armitage, was likely to leave with him.

While not a surprise, Mr Powell's departure deprives the administration of a moderate voice and highly regarded diplomat at a time when Mr Bush has said he is willing to spend political capital to restore relations with allies and reinvigorate the Middle East peace process.

Mr Powell was weakened by his frequent internal battles over Iraq with Vice President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, whose advice most often prevailed with the President.

While officials encouraged speculation that his job would go to Dr Rice (50), who has supported Mr Bush's hard line in the global war on terrorism, another name frequently mentioned yesterday was the US ambassador to the United Nations, Mr John Danforth (68), a former Republican senator.

Mr Bush nominated White House lawyer Alberto Gonzales to replace Mr Ashcroft last week and the choice of Dr Rice for Secretary of State would indicate a pattern of getting his personal team to head up departments.

Later yesterday Mr Powell met Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and will attend a meeting of Asian officials in Chile tomorrow and a multinational conference on Iraq next week. He also plans to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the Middle East as a narrow window for progress is opened up with elections in Palestinian territories on January 9th. He then will meet European leaders in December to discuss, among other issues, the roadmap to a Middle East settlement.

Mr Powell will be remembered for his presentation to the UN Security Council on February 5th, 2003, when he made the case for the US invasion of Iraq on the basis of weapons of mass destruction which turned out not to exist.

In his letter to Mr Bush, Mr Powell said, "I am pleased to have been part of a team that launched the global war against terror, liberated the Afghan and Iraqi people."