Powell, three other Cabinet members resign

By GEORGE GEDDA
Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Colin Powell and three other Cabinet members submitted their resignations, a senior administration official said Monday, as the shake-up of President Bush's second-term team escalated.

Besides Powell, who had argued Bush's case for ousting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein before a skeptical U.N. Security Council in February 2003, others whose resignations were confirmed Monday included Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, Education Secretary Rod Paige and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham.

The departures of Attorney General John Ashcroft and Commerce Secretary Donald Evans had been announced last week. The resignations announced Monday bring to six _ out of 15 _ the number of Cabinet members to decide so far to leave.

Bush already has chosen White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to succeed Ashcroft.

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 a successor, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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.

Powell expects that his departure date will be sometime in January, the officials said. It was not immediately clear whether he would leave before Bush's second inauguration, on Jan 20.

Most of the speculation on his successor has centered on U.N. Ambassador John Danforth, a Republican and former U.S. senator from Missouri, and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Abraham, a former senator from Michigan, joined the administration after he lost a bid for re-election, becoming the nation's 10th energy secretary. If he stays at the post until the end of this term, as is planned, he would become the longest-serving secretary at the department.

Sources said that Abraham intends to stay in Washington, where he plans to work in private law practice.

Abraham struggled in attempt to get Congress to endorse the Bush administration's broad energy agenda, but he was unable to convince Congress to enact energy legislation. Abraham, on another front, worked aggressively to expand the government's efforts safeguarding nuclear materials and convinced the White House to put more money into nuclear non-proliferation efforts. He also pushed aggressively to expand resesarch into hydrogen-fuel vehicles.

The leading candidate to replace Paige, meanwhile, is Margaret Spellings, Bush's domestic policy adviser who helped shape his school agenda when he was the Texas governor.

Paige, 71, the nation's seventh education secretary, is the first black person to serve in the job. He grew up in segregated Mississippi and built a career on a belief that education equalizes opportunity, moving from college dean and school superintendent to education chief.

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 has been strained by the difficult U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Powell, a former chairman of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff under the first President Bush, led the current administration argument at the United Nations 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 multinational 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.

Powell had indicated, when asked, that he would be willing to remain in his post, but that a decision on that was up to Bush.

Powell's role in shaping foreign policy was one of promoting moderation and traditional diplomatic alliances with friendly nations. His influence was measured, though, since most of Bush's other senior advisers generally took a harder line and they often prevailed.

Earlier, after the 9-11 attacks, Powell helped fashion a fragile coalition of countries for the war against terrorism, careful to request all the help a country could give without pushing any country beyond its limits. Similarly, when leaders decided to end or shorten their troops' duty in postwar Iraq the State Department avoided any harsh reaction, saying simply that it was up to each country to make up its mind.

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.