A Diplomatic Loss

Top-Ranking Arab American Is Leaving State for Wall Street

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Dina Habib Powell, the highest-ranking Arab American in the Bush administration, is resigning from her post at the State Department to join Goldman Sachs Group, a leading Wall Street investment house.

Powell, as assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs and deputy to Undersecretary of State Karen P. Hughes, played a critical role in the administration's efforts to bolster public diplomacy in the face of the wave of anti-Americanism that has swept the Arab world since the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Her parents immigrated from Egypt and settled in Texas when Powell was 4 years old and she could not speak a word of English.

Goldman is expected to announce today that Powell, 33, will become a managing director, working out of Chairman Lloyd Blankfein's office as director of global corporate engagement, a newly created position. She will oversee the firm's charitable activities and serve as Goldman's principal liaison to philanthropic and nongovernmental organizations.

"It's the right time for me and my family," Powell said, noting that though she enjoyed working at State, she has worked for the administration in high-pressure jobs for the past seven years. "I think my husband has the days counted."

Powell's husband, Richard Powell, is managing director of a public affairs firm. They have two daughters, one 5 years old and the other 15 months.

Powell joined the State Department from the White House, where she was the youngest person ever to direct the presidential personnel office and its roughly three dozen employees. Before accepting a job at State two years ago, she advised Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on staffing her team at Foggy Bottom.

"I'm really sorry to lose her. She is fantastic," Rice said in an interview yesterday. "She had so many ideas. There are people who have ideas but can't execute them. She really executed them."

Rice pointed especially to Powell's creation of public-private partnerships, which brought corporations together with the government to assist other countries, such as in Lebanon. The U.S.-Lebanon partnership, formed after the Israeli-Hezbollah war last summer that stirred anger against the United States, is led by a group of corporate executives who traveled to Lebanon with Powell to promote initiatives to create jobs and rebuild homes.

Despite rising tensions with Iran over its nuclear program, Powell also resurrected people-to-people exchanges with the Islamic Republic, bringing Iranian medical doctors to the United States and sending a U.S. wrestling team to Iran.

"She restarted exchanges with Iran in ways that I thought not possible," Rice said.

As White House personnel director, Powell made recommendations on hiring and was one of four individuals -- the others were President Bush, Vice President Cheney and political adviser Karl Rove -- who knew whether a candidate was being accepted for one of the 4,000 jobs filled by the White House.

"She was the youngest assistant to the president, but she did not suffer any detriment in stature as a result of being young," said Joshua B. Bolten, White House chief of staff. "She had a lot of credibility with the senior staff and most importantly with the president."

Bolten, who once worked at Goldman Sachs, said that at State, Powell, along with Hughes, had "one of the toughest challenges of our country, realigning our public diplomacy to improve our standing in the world. They have prepared the soil and planted a lot of seeds, but the fruits will not be apparent until after this administration is done."

Rice said that Powell "won't be replaceable" but Hughes is looking at potential candidates. "There is a lot now in place," she said. "For the next 18 months it is now a matter of institutionalizing it."

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