Outgoing US Secretary of State Colin Powell was asked to step down after telling President George W. Bush he wanted more power to confront Israel over the peace process, according to London's Sunday Telegraph.
At the same time, the Sunday Times reported that secretary of state-designate Condoleezza Rice is convinced Yasser Arafat's death has created a unique opportunity and she believes the revival of the peace process leading to a Palestinian state will be her top priority.
Powell was widely rumored to be ready to resign after four years of conflict with Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
However, the Telegraph quoted 'friends' as saying he changed his mind because he saw the chance of progress on the peace process and wanted to see through the Iraqi elections.
He was reported to have made an unsuccessful pitch to remain in office for at least one more year during British Prime Minister Tony Blair's visit to Washington earlier this month.
The paper noted that while Powell's departure was announced on November 15, his letter of resignation was dated November 11, the day of his meeting with Bush.
White House officials were quoted as saying that Powell was not asked to stay on. Briefing reporters later, Powell said he and Bush had had 'fulsome discussions,' diplomatic code for disagreements.
'The clincher came over the Mideast peace process,' a recently-retired State Department official reportedly said. 'Powell thought he could use the credit he had banked as the president's 'good cop' in foreign policy to rein in [Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon and get the peace process going. He was wrong.'
Among those who lobbied against Powell were Cheney and Undersecretary of State John Bolton, both of whom want the administration to focus primarily on Iran's nuclear ambitions and the fight against Islamic terrorist groups.
Cheney and Bolton, who will be Rice's deputy, were said to fear that Powell would back away from a confrontational approach. They are also frustrated that Britain, France, and Germany are still seeking a diplomatic deal with Teheran rather than backing an immediate UN Security Council resolution condemning Iran and threatening sanctions.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Times reported that Rice is said to be sympathetic to the Palestinians' plight and has said she will work tirelessly for a democratic settlement.
Stanford Institute for International Studies director Coit Blacker, who has been a friend of Rice for 25 years, was quoted as saying: 'She is going to focus like a laser beam on it. The timing could not be better. I know from talking to her she feels this may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get a settlement.'
According to Blacker, Rice's style of diplomacy will be very different from that of Powell.
'She believes in old-fashioned diplomacy,' he said. 'You get on a plane and you go to the capital and meet your counterpart. We're going to see a change there.'
The paper also reported that before news of Rice's nomination was made public, she met Minister-without-Portfolio Natan Sharansky and assured him that bringing democracy to the Middle East would be 'the centerpiece' of US foreign policy over the next four years.
Sharansky was in Washington to promote his latest book, The Case for Democracy, on how to beat terrorism. Rice told him, 'You know why I am reading your book? Because the president is reading your book and he thinks I should read it.'(Jerusalem Post/Douglas Davis)"