Condoleezza Rice has been nominated to replace Colin Powell as the US Secretary of State, senior administration sources said last night.
There has been speculation for some time that the hawkish Ms Rice, formerly the National Security Adviser, was being lined up to replace General Powell in a second-term Bush administration. Officials said General Powell, 67, handed in his resignation last Friday and told his staff when he arrived for work yesterday.
His resignation statement read: "I am pleased to have been part of a team that launched the global war against terror, liberated the Afghan and Iraqi people, brought the attention of the world to the problem of proliferation, reaffirmed our alliances, adjusted to the post- Cold War world and undertook major initiatives to deal with ... poverty and disease in the developing world. I believe, now that the election is over, the time has come for me to step down."
General Powell's intention not to serve in a second term was one of the worst-kept secrets in Washington and there had been speculation about his future from almost the moment he joined the Bush administration. Before the election, rumours circulated that the veteran soldier was possibly eyeing a job as head of the World Bank. His fallback line was always that he "served at the pleasure of the President".
General Powell enjoyed deep respect at home and abroad and was seen as the most senior moderate voice in an administration packed with hardliners. A notoriously tough bureaucratic infighter, he was often at odds with the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and Vice-President Dick Cheney.
Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said: "It's been a joy to work with Colin Powell. [He is] a unique figure who had made the transition from being a great soldier to being a great statesman and diplomat."
Critics contend that he lost much of his respect and reputation as a moderating influence in the approach to war in Iraq. Having tried to persuade George Bush to "take the UN route", he watched as the administration launched a pre- emptive attack with the support of just a handful of nations.
Before joining the Bush administration, Ms Rice, 50, was a specialist in Soviet affairs and has published several books on Soviet and east European foreign policy. Mr Bush plans to replace her as National Security Adviser with her deputy, Stephen Hadley.