- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick is expected to leave his post, most likely for a job outside the government, although he has not given a formal notice, administration officials said yesterday.

Mr. Zoellick and his aides declined to comment on press reports of his “immediate” departure, but they rejected suggestions that he was frustrated with his work at the State Department or with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

They also played down speculation that he was leaving the Bush administration because he was not able to secure the top post at the Treasury Department, amid wide expectation that Secretary John W. Snow would be replaced.

“Secretary Rice and the deputy secretary work together very well and meet multiple times a day,” one of Mr. Zoellick’s senior aides said. “Those rumors are natural, and there have been other similar stories before.”

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack neither confirmed nor denied the reports, saying Mr. Zoellick was working hard on a full agenda of foreign policy issues.

Word about Mr. Zoellick’s exit after more than five years in the administration — four as U.S. trade representative and the remainder as deputy secretary of state — spread Tuesday.

Some reports said the initial sources were at the White House, while others suggested that the information came from Wall Street investment banks, where Mr. Zoellick was likely to accept a high-profile position.

Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs were among the names mentioned, although both firms declined to comment. Mr. Zoellick was a senior international adviser to Goldman Sachs in the 1990s.

A State Department official acknowledged that rumors had spread but said no announcement about Mr. Zoellick had been made to people in the building.

The official speculated that the deputy secretary might have received an offer he could not refuse, as was the case with Margaret Tutwiler, who was undersecretary of state for public diplomacy for a few months in 2004 before becoming vice president of the New York Stock Exchange.

Mr. Zoellick’s aide noted that his boss surprised many in Washington last year when he agreed to become Miss Rice’s deputy after holding a Cabinet-level position during President Bush’s first term.

“He was very pleased to help Secretary Rice drive the president’s foreign policy in the second term,” the aide said.

Some at the State Department refer to Mr. Zoellick as “co-secretary” because of his high profile and frequent travels overseas. Unlike his predecessor, Richard L. Armitage, he has little interest in managing the building and spends most of his time on policy, officials said.

China and Sudan have become Mr. Zoellick’s signature issues, but the State Department official said these policy areas would not lack attention if he left.

The official said Mr. Zoellick, who is a Harvard graduate and is considered one of the administration’s most intellectual senior members, is not personally close to Miss Rice, but she values his help and is pleased with the work they have been doing together.

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