By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 4, 2007
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has persuaded John D. Negroponte to leave his post as director of national intelligence and come to the State Department as her deputy, government officials said last night.
Negroponte's move would fill a crucial hole on Rice's team. She has been without a deputy since Robert B. Zoellick left in July for a Wall Street firm. It also comes as President Bush plans to announce a new Iraq strategy; as former Iraq envoy, Negroponte would be expected to play a major role in implementing that plan in his new role.
Negroponte's decision to step down as the nation's top spy for a sub-Cabinet position marks a sudden reversal. Rice had earlier sought to recruit Negroponte -- as well as other high-profile figures -- for the job, but last month he insisted he was staying at his post.
"In my own mind at least, I visualize staying . . . through the end of this administration, and then I think probably that'll be about the right time to pack it in," he told C-SPAN in an interview broadcast Dec. 3. "I've pulled together a very good team, and they've stayed with me for the past 18 months," he said, "and I hope they'll stay with me as long as I'm in the job."
He reiterated that commitment in an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters on Dec. 14. Negroponte is the first person to hold the post of intelligence czar, created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
NBC News first reported Negroponte's planned move to State. Administration officials said Negroponte's likely successor as head of U.S. intelligence is retired Navy Adm. John M. McConnell, who directed the National Security Agency from 1992 to 1996 under President Bill Clinton. McConnell is now a senior vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, the Washington contractor and consulting agency.
Government officials last night declined to say how Rice lured Negroponte, 67, though some had suggested earlier that he was unhappy as director of national intelligence and that he would like to return to his roots at the State Department. Negroponte was a Foreign Service officer from 1960 to 1997, serving as ambassador to the Philippines, Honduras and Mexico.
Even with a Democratic-controlled Senate, Negroponte should have little trouble winning confirmation. In the current administration, he has been confirmed as permanent U.S. representative to the United Nations, ambassador to Iraq and director of national intelligence.
One U.S. official said an official announcement will come later this week, probably tomorrow. White House and State Department officials declined to comment.
Observers have been puzzled at how long it has taken Rice to fill the deputy position in a period of intense diplomatic activity.
Rice gave Zoellick wide berth as her deputy. He had primary responsibility for relations with China, the crisis in Sudan, Latin America, economic affairs and Southeast Asia. In a first for a deputy secretary of state, he frequently allowed reporters on his plane when he traveled abroad.
Zoellick left a Cabinet post -- U.S. trade representative -- to take the job as Rice's deputy.