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Pianist Rice succeeds Powell
Armitage too out, Delhi faces new team

Washington, Nov. 16: Condoleezza Rice, an accomplished classical pianist and ice skater who aspired to be the commissioner of the National Football League, but ended up as the provost of Stanford University, has been named America's next secretary of state.

President George W. Bush gifted her the most high-profile job in the US government two days after her 50th birthday. Rice will be the second woman and the second Black to be secretary of state in US history. She will be succeeded by Stephen Hadley, her current deputy at the White House, as national security adviser.

Indians will be tempted to use various touchstones to rate the two key appointments in the second Bush term as pro-India or anti-India.

In the reams of newsprint that have been used across the US today to discuss the two presidential choices and among the millions of words spoken since yesterday on American television on the subject, there was not even a passing reference to India.

It is an indication of how far away India is from the US policy radar and it will, therefore, be entirely up to the Manmohan Singh government to fashion its relations with Bush in the next four years.

It is becoming clear that in doing so, New Delhi will have to deal with an entirely new foreign policy team here. Deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, a frequent visitor to New Delhi, has put in his papers, it was announced today.

Armitage is a close friend of Powell's and had told friends that he would not remain in the state department a minute longer than his boss.

Assistant secretary of state for South Asia, Christina Rocca, had told her colleagues before the presidential election that she would not remain at her post in the second Bush term. She is, however, too insignificant a figure in the administration for an announcement to be made as in the case of Powell or Armitage.

Ken Juster, who has been described as India's best friend in the Bush team, is expected to move to a different job as well. As deputy secretary of commerce, he doggedly pushed through the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) between India and the US, fighting to overcome bureaucratic opposition to co-operation with India in sensitive areas such as nuclear energy, space and export of dual items for civilian-military use.

'During the last four years I have relied on her counsel, benefited from her great experience and appreciated her sound and steady judgement. And now I am honoured that she has agreed to serve in my Cabinet,' Bush said of Rice at a White House ceremony to announce the new secretary of state.

That acknowledgement is being interpreted here as signal that Bush intends to continue the hardline foreign policy that he pursued in his first four years at the White House.

Rice was his closest aide during those years and she navigated through treacherous conflicts between a moderate state department led by Powell and Armitage and a conservative Pentagon and the vice-presidency.

Although Rice will certainly be confirmed by the Senate, she will have to answer some tough questions at her confirmation hearing, Democrats served notice today.

A bipartisan commission appointed by Congress to probe the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, was harsh on Rice. It said she had failed to act on repeated warnings in the first half of 2001 that the US was vulnerable to a terrorist attack.

Some of America's veteran diplomats have also been critical of her appointment, pointing out that since she is unequivocally the President's voice, there would be no room for different points of view or debate about policy.

Meanwhile, speculation continues about the future of the secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld.

Asked in Ecuador today if he had resigned, Rumsfeld said: 'I have not discussed that with the President, and I think I would prefer to discuss that with him before I discuss that with you.'

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