White House

Bush to make changes in key national security jobs

WASHINGTON—President Bush is preparing to shake up his national security team and bring new faces to the United Nations, the military, the State Department and the U.S. embassy in Iraq, administration officials said Thursday.

In one high-profile shift, Adm. William Fallon, the head of the U.S. Pacific Command, would be nominated to succeed Army Gen. John Abizaid as the commander of the U.S. Central Command. Abizaid, who's been skeptical about the wisdom of sending more troops to Iraq, is scheduled to retire in March.

Bush is also expected to name a replacement for Army Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and to appoint the American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, to be the U.S. representative at the United Nations. Khalilzad's likely replacement in Baghdad is Ryan Crocker, a veteran Mideast expert who's now the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan.

At the same time, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, the nation's top intelligence official and Khalilzad's predecessor as ambassador to Iraq, is in line to be named deputy secretary of state on Friday.

Administration officials discussed the changes on the condition of anonymity because White House policy prohibits discussing personnel moves before they're announced. Some of the contemplated changes could be derailed by last-minute developments.

The overhaul of Bush's military, intelligence and diplomatic team comes as the president is putting the finishing touches on a new strategy for Iraq. He's expected to announce his latest Iraq plan next week.

The president spoke briefly about his emerging Iraq plan after meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel early Thursday evening.

"My thinking is taking shape," Bush said. "I've still got consultations to go through."

The personnel shuffle is in keeping with Bush's desire for a fresh start in Iraq, but it doesn't appear to signal a major shift in policy. All the potential appointees are Bush loyalists who've supported the president's Iraq policy.

Fallon would be the first naval officer to head the Central Command, which oversees all U.S. military operations in South and Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. In the Pacific Command, Fallon helped develop a strategy to combat terrorist groups in the Philippines and Indonesia that relied as much on diplomacy and working with local allies as it did on military force.

Khalilzad, a highly regarded diplomat, became a top prospect for the U.N. job when former Ambassador John Bolton resigned in December. Bolton had been appointed to the post when Congress was in recess, and he stepped down when it became clear that he couldn't win Senate confirmation.

Khalilzad, the Bush administration's highest-ranking Muslim, reportedly has been eager to leave Baghdad for months. He's known as a consummate back-room deal maker, having played key roles in helping form the first post-Taliban government in Afghanistan and trying to reconcile Sunni Muslim, Shiite and Kurdish politicians in Iraq.

But his efforts to reach out to Iraq's Sunnis, who launched an insurgency after the fall of the late President Saddam Hussein, made Khalilzad some enemies in Washington, particularly in Vice President Dick Cheney's office, a State Department official said.

Negroponte interrupted his diplomatic career in April 2005 to become the nation's first Director of National Intelligence, a job created in response to the 2001 terrorist attacks.

He's expected to play a major role in helping Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with Iraq policy and efforts to revive Arab-Israeli peace negotiations.

"He's a diplomat's diplomat," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, without confirming the personnel shift. "She has a very good working relationship with him, and he is also somebody who has the confidence of the president."

Retired Navy Vice Admiral Mike McConnell, currently a top executive at the Booz Allen Hamilton consulting firm, is Bush's choice to replace Negroponte in the intelligence job. McConnell formerly headed the National Security Agency.

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(McClatchy Newspapers correspondent Jonathan S. Landay contributed to this report.)

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