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Washington, 16 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is probably the most widely known and respected member of President George W. Bush's cabinet. Now that Powell has decided to resign, Bush will have to look to someone else to be the United States' top diplomat for the next four years. Latest reports indicate that Bush is likely to nominate his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, to serve as Powell's replacement. No matter who is chosen, succeeding Powell will be a difficult job.
Powell has assured Bush that he will stay on as secretary of state until his successor is installed. And he made it clear yesterday during a meeting with reporters that he will not take it easy during his last weeks on the job.
"I can assure you that I will be working hard until the very, very end, and I thank President Bush and I thank the American people for giving me this opportunity to serve the nation once again," Powell said.
Indeed, yesterday -- the day his resignation was made public -- Powell had a full schedule, including a meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and an evening address to foreign diplomats. Later this week, he will be in Chile for the Asia Pacific Economic Conference summit. Next week, he'll travel to Egypt for an international forum on Iraq.
Powell was widely seen as a moderate in a cabinet populated mostly by men and women with more conservative leanings, such as Vice President Dick Cheney, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Powell is said to have had disagreements on a variety of important issues -- most notably the war in Iraq -- with Cheney and Rumsfeld. He also is widely reported to have been frustrated by the Bush administration's low-level involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Powell acknowledged these difficulties yesterday as he assessed his long career of public service, which began in the U.S. Army, where he rose to the rank of four-star general and served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"In every one of these jobs, there have been high points and low points, and what you have to learn to do in government -- or in life -- is to work through problems, seize the opportunities as they come along, deal with the crises and challenges as they come along, and that is always the way I have tried to live my life in public service," Powell said.
The secretary of state's normally good relations with his counterpart foreign ministers around the world was strained by the war in Iraq, and in particular by his argument before the United Nations Security Council shortly before the U.S.-led invasion that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. No such weapons have been found.
Thomas Carothers is the co-director of the Democracy and Rule of Law Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington policy center. Carothers said that while Powell may have faltered in the opinion of those who have long admired him, his presence in the Bush cabinet gave hope to those who felt the need for a moderating influence.
Carothers told RFE/RL that Powell's departure is a great loss to many in the United States and in allied nations who fear the influence of more ideologically minded administration officials. "We lose the belief that there's at least one person of major international stature at the heart of the Bush administration who cares deeply about what our allies -- both in Europe and the Middle East and Asia and elsewhere -- care about," he said.
Carothers said America's allies did not lose faith in Powell himself, but in his ability to compete successfully with Bush administration hard-liners on important issues. "The world felt increasingly unconfident that [Powell] really had any say with the president. So at this point, it's a sad loss for the world. But a lot of people will privately admit that it was time for him to go. It was just clear when reviewing the record on Iraq and on the Palestinian-Israeli issue and others that he really didn't win any important battles [within the cabinet] and really wasn't steering the president anywhere," he said.
But Powell said he will be leaving with no regrets. In his letter of resignation to Bush, he writes that he is proud to have been part of a team that "liberated the Afghan and Iraqi people," that mounted the war against terrorism, that called attention to the problem of nuclear proliferation, and addressed poverty and disease worldwide.
Reports said Bush is likely to nominate Rice to serve as the new secretary of state. A formal announcement is expected today. Rice would first have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate before taking office.