By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
One of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's closest advisers said yesterday that he will resign at the end of the year, depriving her of a key sounding board at a time when she is still searching for a new deputy and faces difficult challenges in the Middle East.
Philip D. Zelikow, 52, holds the unassuming title of "counselor," but in many ways he is Rice's intellectual soul mate, and he plays a critical role in formulating policy at the State Department. In his resignation letter, he cited professional and personal obligations, including a need to return to an endowed chair that the University of Virginia has held vacant for four years and to pay "some truly riveting obligations to college bursars" for his children's education.
As a sort of minister without portfolio, Zelikow was a one-person think tank for Rice, churning out lengthy and sometimes blunt memos calling for confronting the deteriorating situation in Iraq, overhauling the administration's detainee policies and using the North Korean nuclear crisis to build a new security structure in northeast Asia. He also played an important role in Rice's decisions to strike a nuclear energy deal with India and to offer to join European-led nuclear talks with Iran.
Zelikow proved to be a controversial figure at the State Department and in the administration for his willingness to challenge administration orthodoxy and for his sometimes abrasive approach. But Rice valued his insights and contributions, aides said, even when descriptions of some of his memos began to surface in news reports.
In an interview yesterday, Zelikow said Rice "knew I had done no wrong." At no time, he added, was he quoted reflecting on people's personalities or disclosing private discussions with Rice.
"Philip is a close friend and we will continue to enjoy this friendship in the years ahead," Rice said in a statement. "I appreciate Philip's dedicated service during this time of historical change."
In September, Zelikow alarmed pro-Israel groups when he told the Washington Institute on Near East Policy that, for Arabs and Europeans, "some sense of progress and momentum on the Arab-Israeli dispute is just a sine qua non for their ability to cooperate actively with the United States on a lot of things that we care about."
Zelikow said yesterday that advocates on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "over-read my remarks to make the arguments they wanted to make." But he noted that Rice will travel to the Middle East this week to assemble a coalition to "execute a regional approach to Mideast issues."
While Zelikow's name was sometimes floated for open jobs, such as deputy secretary of state, Rice aides said he was not seriously considered for anything but his current post, which did not require Senate confirmation. Zelikow had rubbed some lawmakers the wrong way when he served as executive director of the commission that investigated the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Friends said that Zelikow, who was appointed in February 2005, never intended to serve a full four years at the State Department but that he feels bad about leaving Rice before she has selected a deputy. If he did not leave now, he would not be listed in University of Virginia course catalogues for the upcoming semester, which would then delay his return until September.
Once he leaves the government, Zelikow will be able to supplement his salary with consulting projects and by writing books. He said he wants to write scholarly books, not a tell-all on the Bush administration, which is "no doubt a disappointment to my wife."
Asked what his departure means, Zelikow said: "Liberated from this weight, the secretary will soar higher and higher."
Rice's deputy, Robert B. Zoellick, left in July for a Wall Street investment house. He had carried an unusually large portfolio, principally handling China, Latin America, Southeast Asia, Sudan and international economics. One aide said Rice hopes to announce a replacement by the end of the year.
Zelikow and Rice worked together on the National Security Council staff in the administration of George H.W. Bush, beginning on the same day in 1989 and leaving within 24 hours of each other in 1991. They then co-wrote "Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft," an academic book on U.S. policy during the tumultuous period of German reunification.
Zelikow was a consultant to Rice when she returned to Washington as President Bush's national security adviser, helping her restructure the NSC staff, though he did not join the administration at the time. At Rice's request, Zelikow was the primary writer of the administration's post-Sept. 11 national security strategy, which first outlined the intellectual rationale for preemptive war as a key tool in U.S. foreign policy.