Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Rice loses another top aide

Rice loses another aide as top Arab-American diplomat resigns

15 minutes ago

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice lost yet another senior aide on Wednesday when Dina Habib Powell, the highest-ranking Arab-American in the US government, announced her resignation to join a Wall Street investment bank.

The departure of Powell, key architect of a Rice initiative to improve the United States' image abroad, was the third senior diplomat to quit in the past five days and the sixth so far this year -- an exodus that is expected to continue in the final 20 months of the Bush administration.

Powell, who at 33 is also one of the youngest senior State Department diplomats, is taking up a job at Goldman Sachs Group, department spokesman Tom Casey said. She is due to leave her State Department job in about two months.

Powell, whose parents emigrated from Egypt to Texas when she was a child, followed Rice to the State Department two years ago from the White House, where she directed the presidential personnel office.

As the assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, Powell also served as the deputy to Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes, President George W. Bush's former media guru who has been leading a "public diplomacy" campaign to counter anti-Americanism in the Arab world since the US invasion of Iraq.

Powell said her decision to leave government at this time was personal.

"It's the right time for me and my family," Powell told The Washington Post.

"I'm really sorry to lose her. She is fantastic," Rice told the Post of Powell's resignation.

"She had so many ideas. There are people who have ideas but can't execute them. She really executed them," Rice said.

Powell was notably instrumental in creating public-private partnerships to help fund relief efforts, notably in Lebanon following the July-August 2006 war between Israel and the Lebanese militia, Hezbollah -- a conflict which fuelled anger in the region against the United States for its backing of Israel.

"Dina's really done a remarkable job for us in helping to build and expand our educational and cultural programs, particularly in working on developing public and private sector partnerships," Casey said.

Powell also managed to resurrect people-to-people exchanges with Iran at a time of high tension between the two states due to Tehran's nuclear program and alleged support for militants in Iran, Lebanon and the Palestinian areas.

"She restarted exchanges with Iran in ways that I thought not possible," Rice said, pointing to programs that saw Iranian doctors visit the United States and a US wrestling team travel to Iran.

News of Powell's resignation followed that of Barry Lowenkron, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, who announced on Monday that he was quitting to join a private charitable foundation.

Friday, one of Rice's two deputies, foreign aid director Randall Tobias, quit after being named in the media as a client of a Washington DC call-girl ring.

Since the start of the year, Rice has also lost her private counselor, Philip Zelikow, planning director Stephen Krasner, former UN ambassador John Bolton and non-proliferation chief Bob Joseph.

A senior State Department official indicated that the spate of resignations could continue as Bush nears the end of his mandate in January 2009.

"It's only natural as you get towards the end of the second term that people are going to be moving on," he said. "The secretary understands."

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