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Inside Politics

Powell resigns with three other Cabinet secretaries

Condoleezza Rice nomination could be announced Tuesday

Secretary of State Colin Powell
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Colin Powell talks about the challenges facing the State Depratment.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux reports on Powell's resignation.
Colin Powell
White House

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell announced Monday he was resigning, and two senior administration officials told CNN that national security adviser Condoleezza Rice is President Bush's choice to replace him.

In a letter dated Friday, Powell told Bush that, "now that the election is over the time has come for me to step down as secretary of state and return to private life. I, therefore, resign as the 65th secretary of state, effective at your pleasure."

"I will always treasure the four years that I have spent with President Bush and with the wonderful men and women of the Department of State," Powell told reporters. "I think we've accomplished a great deal."

Should Rice's nomination be approved, her top deputy, Stephen Hadley, will be promoted to national security adviser, the senior administration officials said. The nomination could be announced as early as Tuesday.

The moves drew initial negative reaction from a former secretary of state who served Bush's father.

"I do not believe that you should have in the secretary of state someone who has spent their last four years in the White House next to the president," Lawrence Eagleburger told CNN's "Paula Zahn Now." "I do believe you need tension between the State Department, the Defense Department and the National Security Council.

"If the rumors prove correct and her deputy becomes national security adviser, everybody is going to speak the same language," he said. "Whatever influence, for instance, Colin Powell had is going to be much less under these new circumstances."

Powell said Bush accepted the resignation Friday, adding, "It has always been my intention that I would serve one term."

But a senior State Department official characterized Powell's departure this way: "He was not asked to stay."

For months Powell said he served at the pleasure of the president, suggesting he might stay if asked.

"That didn't happen," the senior official said. But the official also said Powell "never asked to stay and was never asked to leave."

Powell said he expects "to act fully as secretary of state until the day that I do leave. I expect that will be a number of weeks or a month or two as my replacement goes through the confirmation process."

Meanwhile, it will be business as usual, he said. "I fully intend for the department to work as hard as it has in recent years to push forward the president's foreign policy agenda."

Asked to list the biggest pieces of unfinished business facing the department, Powell cited "the global war against terror," the consolidation of gains made in Afghanistan, the defeat of the insurgency in Iraq and the pursuit of new opportunities in the Middle East as a result of the death last week of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

Asked whether he will be able to wield power as a short-timer, the former general said, "I think that I will be able to be quite effective for the remainder of my term."

He said he did not know what he would do after leaving the department.

Powell was scheduled to travel to Egypt next week for a conference on Iraq.

A senior official said Monday that the State Department was trying to arrange a meeting between Powell and the new Palestinian leadership, but added the details have not been worked out. A date and place have not been set, the official said.

The official made the comment after Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath told reporters in Gaza City that Powell was expected to meet with the leadership next week in the West Bank.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Danforth, whose name also had been discussed as a possible successor to Powell, told reporters Monday afternoon that he had not been approached about the job. "It hasn't been mentioned by me or to me," he said.

Other resignations

Powell is the most prominent of four Cabinet officials whose resignations were announced Monday by the White House.

The others were Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, Education Secretary Rod Paige and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham.

One of Powell's best known moments as secretary of state was his speech last year to the U.N. Security Council in which he made a case for invading Iraq.

He said that Saddam Hussein was still developing weapons of mass destruction despite years of U.N. disarmament demands. Those claims about Iraq weaponry were never borne out.

Smooth transition

State Department officials said that Bush and Powell decided mutually that it was time for him to go.

The White House said Powell had been in discussions with Bush about his resignation.

Some administration officials said the secretary had talked of staying on for a month to three months into the new term, because he wanted to advance a few priorities before stepping down.

But White House officials said it was decided that the secretary's resignation should be announced now.

Several officials said the White House bore no ill will toward Powell, but simply desired to move smoothly through the Cabinet transitions. One said that, had Powell stayed longer, it would have "a ripple effect" on other planned changes.

"It wasn't so much time for him, as it was time for the president," one senior official said, adding that Powell and Bush had been discussing his potential resignation for some time and had come to "mutual agreement."

CNN's John King, Andrea Koppel, Suzanne Malveaux and Elise Labotte contributed to this report.

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