WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Colin Powell, who pleaded President Bush’s case for ousting Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to a skeptical U.N. Security Council, told top aides Monday he will resign from the Cabinet, high-ranking State Department officials said.
Powell, who long has been rumored planning only a single term with Bush, told his aides that he intends to leave once Bush settles on whom to succeed him, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Word of Powell’s imminent departure kicked off a new week of Cabinet shuffling for Bush, who is planning his second term.
“I do expect some announcements shortly regarding members of the Cabinet,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters at the White House Monday morning. “There are a few resignation. I expect four today.”
McClellan said he did not expect any announcements Monday on replacements, however.
The White House was preparing an announcement to confirm Powell’s resignation. According to one official, Powell expects that his departure date will be sometime in January. It was not immediately clear whether he would leave before Bush’s second inauguration, on Jan 20.
Most of the speculation on a successor has centered on U.N. Ambassador John Danforth, a Republican and former U.S. senator from Missouri, and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice (news – web sites).
Powell has had a controversial tenure in the secretary of state’s job, reportedly differing on some key issues at various junctures with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. Powell, however, has generally had good relations with his counterparts around the world, although his image standing has been strained by the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
Powell, a former chairman of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff, led the Bush administration argument at the United Nations (news – web sites) for a military attack to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, arguing a weapons-of-mass-destruction threat that the administration could never buttress.
Powell submitted his letter of resignation to the President on Friday. He will go about his usual schedule and will continue at full speed until a successor is named and in place, a senior administration said.
Powell was scheduled to meet later Monday with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and was to attend a meeting of Asian officials in Chile Wednesday and a mutinational conference on Iraq next week.
He told some two dozen staff members of his projected departure at the start of the day.
For many months, Powell had been viewed as a one-term secretary of state but he has always been vague about his intentions. He had said repeatedly in recent weeks that he serves at “the pleasure of the president.”
One senior official said that Powell’s departure was part of a much broader Cabinet shakeup, details of which should be disclosed soon.
There had been speculation that Powell might elect to stay on until after the Iraqi elections at the end of January, but the senior official made no reference to that possibility.
Iraq has dominated Powell’s attention during his nearly four years as secretary of state. Powell will perhaps be best remembered for that U.N. Security Council appearance on Feb. 5, 2003, during which he argued that Saddam must be removed because of its possession of weapons of mass destruction.
There is no evidence that those claims had any foundation. Powell has maintained all along that the use of force of by the American coalition in Iraq was justified.