- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick, who has played a key role in the Bush administration on issues ranging from global trade to Sudan’s civil war, announced yesterday that he will leave his post to take a top Wall Street job.

The decision by Mr. Zoellick, the top aide to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, was widely expected after President Bush last month named Goldman Sachs Chairman Henry M. Paulson to replace departing Treasury Secretary John W. Snow — a job for which Mr. Zoellick also had been a candidate.

Ironically, the 52-year-old Mr. Zoellick has been hired by Mr. Paulson’s old firm and will chair Goldman Sachs’ international operations when he steps down, probably next month.

Miss Rice praised her deputy, saying at a State Department press briefing that she had worked closely with him since the first days of the Bush presidency, when she was national security adviser and he was U.S. trade representative.

“You have helped to guide American diplomacy with principle and prudence at a time when there are few precedents for action,” she said.

Mr. Zoellick told reporters he happily would have accepted the Treasury post, but praised the choice of Mr. Paulson and said his decision to leave after more than five years in the administration was “independent of that.”

White House spokesman Tony Snow said Mr. Zoellick “has been wanting to pursue options in the private sector, and now he’s doing it.”

Neither Miss Rice nor Mr. Zoellick would speculate publicly on who might take over the deputy secretary’s post. Among those mentioned in the early handicapping are former pharmaceutical executive Randall Tobias, recently named to a new post as overseer of all U.S. aid programs, and Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns, the department’s No. 3 official.

Mr. Zoellick’s selection by Miss Rice in early 2005 was seen as a victory for foreign-policy “realists” in the administration against the hard-line diplomacy favored by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who were said to back State Department arms chief John R. Bolton. Mr. Bush used a recess appointment to make Mr. Bolton ambassador to the United Nations after a deadlocked Senate failed to confirm him.

Popular on Capitol Hill, the brainy, demanding Mr. Zoellick took charge of some major portfolios under Miss Rice, notably the strategic dialogue with Beijing and the crisis in Sudan’s Darfur region. He also served as an economic aide under the first President Bush.

Darfur activists give him credit with pushing the negotiations that produced a cease-fire last month between the Sudanese government and the main faction of the largest rebel group.

But he was a less colorful figure than his outspoken predecessor, Richard Armitage, who was close politically and personally to former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

It was Mr. Burns who took the lead on several high-profile issues in recent days, notably the drive against Iran’s nuclear programs and the talks that produced a major new nuclear accord with India.

Mr. Zoellick received relatively strong marks as U.S. trade representative, signing a number of bilateral free-trade deals and pushing for open global markets by helping to start the current “Doha round” of trade talks.

But Miss Rice teased her strait-laced, Harvard-educated deputy yesterday over a widely reprinted photo of Mr. Zoellick cradling a panda cub during one of his trips to China.

“We needed a deputy who would get up his courage, roll up his sleeves, and occasionally even hug a panda,” she said.

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