WASHINGTON – President-elect Barack Obama appears intent on naming an experienced and centrist foreign policy team, with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state and retired Marine Gen. James Jones as national security adviser, sources said Friday.
A friend of Clinton said she is ready to accept an appointment that would make the former Obama rival his point person in tackling an array of international crises and restoring the United States’ influence around the world, a frequently stated objective of the incoming administration.
Although the Obama transition team and Clinton’s Senate spokesman said nothing has been finalized, her office for the first time officially confirmed that she is talking to Obama about the job. “We’re still in discussions, which are very much on track. Any reports beyond that are premature,” said Philippe Reines, Clinton’s spokesman and senior adviser.
Meanwhile, several sources said that Jones has moved to the top of the list to be Obama’s national security adviser and that the sides are in advanced talks. Sources familiar with the discussions said Obama is considering expanding the scope of the job to give the adviser the kind of authority once wielded by powerful figures such as Henry Kissinger.
The Jones appointment would put the one-time Marine Corps commandant and NATO commander in charge of managing an interagency process that many Democratic foreign policy experts say has been broken under the Bush administration.
With many Democrats expecting Robert Gates to remain as defense secretary, the emerging national security team appears to be centrist in orientation, with deep experience in many of the areas likely to be the focus of Obama’s foreign policy – including wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and instability in Pakistan and the Middle East, where Obama advisers have been signaling a desire to make an early mark in the stalled peace process.
While there has been much discussion about the president-elect’s purported interest in creating a “team of rivals” in his Cabinet, the emerging group could also be one that works well together. Gates is widely known for being a nonpartisan, congenial manager, while Jones is considered by many who know him to be a self-effacing general who “wears power very gracefully,” as one put it. That probably is part of their appeal to Obama, some Democrats said.
One wild card would be Clinton, who clashed sharply with Obama over foreign policy during their battle for the Democratic presidential nomination but worked hard for the party’s ticket in the fall. And the past few days have brought increasing signs that, after some hesitation, Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, want her to take the job. That position comes after the Obama and Clinton sides came to an agreement on how to handle potential conflicts with Bill Clinton’s activities.
“It seems more likely today, versus a few days ago, that she will accept,” one Clinton loyalist said Friday.
Obama has also been meeting with possible candidates for other posts, including director of national intelligence. One name that has surfaced as a possibility in recent days is retired Adm. Dennis Blair, a former chief of the U.S. Pacific Command. Others said to be possibilities include John Brennan, a former CIA analyst who worked his way up the agency ladder, and Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. A member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a former Army officer and businessman, Hagel has strong Capitol Hill support and is respected within the national security community as a nonpartisan analyst of intelligence issues.
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