Rice Is Expected to Pick Trade Diplomat as Deputy

Times Staff Writer

Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice plans to name a tough foreign policy pragmatist, U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick, as her deputy, sources said Thursday. The move reportedly prompted the resignation of the State Department’s most prominent hard-liner, John R. Bolton, who had also sought the job.

The choice of Zoellick, a longtime associate of former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, was widely viewed as a victory for the realist foreign policy wing of the Republican Party over neoconservatives, who dominated policymaking during President Bush’s first term.

By tapping Zoellick, who helped negotiate German reunification and the North American Free Trade Agreement and is known and respected by key U.S. allies, Rice was seen as emphasizing diplomacy over ideology. However, two conservatives argued that the appointment reflected Rice’s desire to choose her own team and should not be interpreted as a shift in Bush’s foreign policy.


The White House had no comment on Zoellick, and Bolton’s office declined to discuss reports of his departure.

As of Thursday, Bolton had not submitted a letter of resignation, a senior State Department official said. However, State Department and U.S. trade representative officials said the absence of any formal denials led them to believe that the reports were correct.

“You can’t say it’s a done deal, though, because Condi may have decided this, but she hasn’t told anyone here that,” the State Department official said.

Rice’s Senate confirmation hearing is scheduled for Jan. 18. Although she is expected to be confirmed, the selection of Zoellick as her deputy would make for a smoother confirmation hearing than if she selected the controversial Bolton.

The 51-year-old Zoellick is a Harvard-trained lawyer who held key jobs in the White House and State and Treasury departments before becoming trade representative in 2001.

Rice worked closely with him when he was deputy White House chief of staff under President Bush’s father. Last month, the National Journal, a nonpartisan Washington magazine, called him “indisputably one of the most successful members of the first Bush Cabinet.”


As Rice’s deputy, Zoellick would be charged with troubleshooting, managing the vast State Department bureaucracy and making sure the president’s policies were carried out by his far-flung diplomats.

“Zoellick, among his other skills, is a manager par excellence,” said Dmitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center and one of the leaders of the realist Republican camp, who consider themselves traditional conservatives who favor active international ties. “Taking into account that Dr. Rice has never managed a huge bureaucracy, I think it’s a very good choice.”

Though Zoellick’s admirers call him a brilliant strategist, Rice probably selected him not as an intellectual counterweight but as “somebody to get her back, somebody who knows the building, someone who is tough,” said a Republican official on Capitol Hill. “If this is true, and it certainly seems like it is, she’s got that.”

“He is probably among the most talented foreign policy, national security, economic security practitioners that the U.S. has produced in the last generation,” said former Pentagon official Kurt Campbell, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “He is literally that good. This is the smartest and best thing [Rice has] done to date.”

Among his credits as U.S. trade representative, Zoellick completed the negotiations that brought China and Taiwan into the World Trade Organization. Earlier, he won the State Department’s highest honors as well as the German government’s Knight Commanders Cross for his role in developing a strategy for German unification at the end of the Cold War.

“He has such good command of the issues, it’s astounding,” one associate said. Zoellick views the world like a chess master, the associate said, adding: “Success is all about anticipation, and that’s a real strength of his: anticipating how the pieces should move and how they interact.”


Zoellick also played a behind-the-scenes role during the 2000 presidential election vote recount in Florida, where he toiled along with Baker.

But Zoellick is not a glad-hander, friends and associates said.

During Cabinet meetings, Bush often goes around the table calling on one secretary after another by the snappy nicknames he coins for them. “When he gets to Zoellick, he just says, ‘Hello, Zoellick,’ ” one source said. “It was very clear he didn’t have the Texas touch.”

For years, the ambitious Zoellick has been mentioned as a possible future Treasury secretary. He also was rumored to be interested in becoming president of the World Bank.

Some Washington insiders speculated that Zoellick agreed to take the deputy job -- which is of lower rank than his current post -- only when it became clear the president would not support his appointment to the other jobs.

Others noted that the deputy secretaries of State and Defense have become extremely high-profile jobs in the Bush administration. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, a neoconservative and architect of the Iraq war who has advocated the use of American power to advance democracy, has often clashed with Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, considered a more traditional conservative.

Bolton, the undersecretary of State for arms control and international security, has been tireless in trying to stop proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. But critics say he has been undiplomatic, and that he has overestimated the capabilities of America’s enemies while turning a blind eye to the proliferation sins of U.S. allies.


Bolton is believed to be a favorite of Vice President Dick Cheney’s, and some see Rice’s choice of Zoellick over Bolton as a sign that she is asserting her independence from the powerful vice president. Another Capitol Hill source said Bolton was departing the State Department to accept a post at the National Security Council. That report also could not be confirmed Thursday.

Amid the speculation, a senior Capitol Hill Democratic staffer cautioned against assuming that changes in Bush foreign policy were afoot.

“The 800-pound gorilla that is the vice president still runs the White House,” he said. “If the first person and the last person who speaks to the president every day is the vice president, you’ll have a strong, realist State Department. But if Condi’s not willing to assert its voice, then it won’t mean much.”


Times staff writer Esther Schrader contributed to this report.