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Gates to remain as defense secretary
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has agreed to serve in President-elect Barack Obama's Cabinet, advisors said Tuesday, setting up the unusual situation in which a wartime Pentagon chief remains to work under a president who has condemned the previous administration's policies.
An official close to the Obama transition team said it was likely Gates would be named Defense secretary when the president-elect begins to unveil his national security team in announcements expected next week.
A former government official who has advised the Obama transition said that it was "99% certain" that Gates would remain as Defense secretary for about a year in the Obama adminitration.
"Nothing is definitive," the fomer official said. "But Gates did agree to stay on."
Advisors also said that Obama appears poised to name Gen. James L. Jones, a former Marine commandant and onetime supreme allied commander of NATO, as his national security advisor.
In both men, Obama apparently has settled on respected defense leaders who have worked well with ranking officials of both political parties and would have been welcomed in either a Democratic or Republican White House.
In two years as Defense secretary, Gates has stepped off considerable distance from the approach and policies of his predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld, and projected an image of independence from President Bush, including over the nation's ongoing wars.
As early as his Senate confirmation hearing, Gates shunned the administration's stubborn insistence that it was winning the war in Iraq, and has represented a potent check against White House troop strategies.
But along with his non-partisan appeal, Gates is valued as a careful steward whose execution of White House policy is marked by caution and an aversion to acting precipitously. For Obama, who wants to remove U.S. combat brigades quickly, support from Gates would provide considerable credibility for the new administration's policies.
Talk of a possible partnership between Obama and Gates has circulated since early this year. But for much of that time, military officials have voiced concern over Obama's proposed timetable for withdrawal.
However, a recent accord between U.S. and Iraqi officials sets a withdrawal timeline similar to Obama's proposal, narrowing differences between the two sides in the debate and easing military resistance to Obama.
Not all details have been worked out, those familiar with some of the talks said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the appointment has not been made publicly.
The former government official said some difficult issues may still be unresolved, including questions deputies who Gates will be allowed to keep, and which Pentagon jobs Obama's transition team will fill.
"The real issue is: Who does Gates keep, and does Obama have a say in what team is there," the official said.
Gates may want Gordon England to remain as deputy Defense secretary, the official said. But some Obama transition officials have indicated they want that job to go to Richard Danzig, a top foreign policy adviser to Obama. Danzig then could be nominated for the secretary's position when Gates leaves.
The negotiations over such details could prompt Gates to change his mind, the former official said, but added he considered that possibility to be remote.
Senior advisors to Gates remained tightlipped on Tuesday, and military officials said they did not know what Gates had decided to do. Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, said he didn't know whether Gates would stay on, but said he hoped he would.
"If the president-elect has prevailed on the secretary to stay, I think that would be a healthy thing, a good thing," Schwartz said. "For stability and continuity it is a good thing."
Since joining the Bush administration, Gates has insisted he plans to leave government service when a new president arrives and retire to his home in Washington state. But he also has criticized military commanders for what he has seen as a failure to adequately equip and protect rank-and-file troops, leading some who know him to suspect he would remain in the job if possible.
A chief motivation for him staying on for a period of about a year would be to provide a smooth transition. Obama's defense transition team began meeting with leaders of the military services this week, receiving unclassified briefings on priorities and needs.
Gates also was seen as a likely pick for Republican presidential nominee John McCain, who differed sharply with Obama on the wisdom of invading Iraq and proposals for getting out.
Obama is expected to broaden his administration's military depth next week by naming Jones, 64, as his national security advisor, advisors said.
Jones is known as a nonpartisan, centrist figure who is respected by Congress and the military.
Like Gates, Jones was courted by campaigns of both parties in the past two years. He was approached by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2006 to be her deputy, but declined her offer.
Analysts believe Jones would be a strong figure in the White House job, able to hold his own against bureaucratic challenges from the Pentagon and the State Department. Obama's team believes too much power has migrated to the Pentagon since the Iraq war began, and would prefer to restore the White House's role at the center of command.
However, Jones has not agreed with all of Obama's stances. He has said that the United States should not set a deadline for departure from Iraq.
Jones has been serving as a Bush administration Mideast envoy charged with helping reorganize the troubled Palestinian security forces. He grew up in France, where his father was an International Harvester executive, and speaks fluent French.
Next week's appointments are likely to include Hillary Clinton as secretary of State. Clinton has agreed to accept the post, giving a central administration role to Obama's main primary election opponent.
Obama also is expected to appoint James B. Steinberg, who was deputy national security advisor in the Clinton years, to be deputy secretary of State under Clinton. Steinberg is known as brainy and intense, and could help backstop Clinton in areas in which she is less familiar.
Obama is expected to make Thomas E. Donilon, a former State Department official and close Clinton ally, to be deputy national security adviser.
Kurt Campbell, who was the top East Asia official in the Clinton Pentagon, is expected to return to the defense department in another top post. Campbell, Donilon and Steinberg have worked together, and are considered close friends.
Susan E. Rice, a former assistant secretary of state and one of the original Obama foreign policy advisers, is expected to be chosen U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.