Barack Obama

Obama picks Rice as his new national security adviser

Controversial ambassador to UN takes over from Tom Donilon despite criticism of her role in aftermath of deadly attack on embassy in Libya

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 June, 2013, 2:38am


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US President Barack Obama conducted a major shake-up of his foreign policy team yesterday, naming Susan Rice as his new White House national security adviser.

It follows her withdrawal from consideration last December for secretary of state because she was a lightning rod for Republican criticism.

This transition is something Tom [Donilon] and the president have been discussing since late last year
White House Official

Rice, currently the US ambassador to the United Nations and a longtime Obama confidante, will take over next month from Tom Donilon as the person who co-ordinates foreign policy from the White House, officials said.

The shake-up comes as Obama grapples with a welter of foreign policy challenges that are testing his diplomatic skills, from Syria's civil war to China's rise on the world stage. Donilon has been a key figure in China policy, masterminding Obama's diplomatic 'pivot' to Asia.

He recently went to Beijing to prepare for the visit of President Xi Jinping to California for talks with Obama at the weekend.

Obama will nominate Samantha Power - a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, former White House aide and Harvard professor - to replace Rice as UN ambassador, White House officials said.

Power's selection amounts to a fresh chance for her after her discretion and diplomatic skills were called into question when she labelled then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton - running against Obama at the time for the party's White House nomination - a "monster" in 2008. The remark prompted her resignation from Obama's campaign team.

By appointing Rice as his national security adviser, Obama avoids a congressional fight because the job does not require Senate confirmation.

Congressional Republicans have sharply criticised her role in the aftermath of last year's attack on a US compound in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were killed.

The aggressive Rice figures to play a more prominent public role in promoting Obama's foreign policy than the low-key Donilon.

At the United Nations, she built a reputation as a tough negotiator. Rice, 48, was an early foreign policy adviser to Obama when he ran for president in 2008 and became the first black woman to serve as US ambassador to the United Nations.

Obama has drawn scrutiny for taking a cautious approach to evidence that Syria used chemical weapons after declaring any such usage would cross a "red line." He has also been reluctant to take steps to arm the Syrian rebels or participate in a "no-fly" zone.

Rice has been of like mind, according to UN diplomats.

Giving her such a key job, however, may generate controversy, particularly over the Benghazi attack. Rice went on television days after the incident to say it appeared to be the result of a spontaneous demonstration by Muslims upset at a video that insulted the prophet Mohammed.

It eventually became clear Islamist extremists had launched the attack on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Republicans continue to pound the Obama administration for what many of them contend was a cover-up to protect Obama from political damage as he sought re-election last year. The White House denies any such effort.

Rice's role in the Benghazi affair dealt her sufficient political damage that she withdrew from consideration last December as Obama's first choice to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state this year.

White House officials said Donilon had been talking for some time about leaving.

A White House official said: "This transition is something Tom and the president have been discussing since late last year.

"Having overseen the transition to a new … national security team and having made significant progress on the key issues the president asked him to take on, including China, it is a natural moment for Tom to depart."

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse