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Obama’s first pick raises eyebrows

November 07, 2008

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WASHINGTON, Nov 6: US President-elect Barack Obama is attempting to set up a transition team that may narrow the political and ethnic divide in the United States and also send a reconciliatory message to the rest of the world.

But his choice for the White House chief of staff does not endorse his intention of coalescing America into “one nation under God”, as he said in his acceptance speech.

Congressman Rahm Emanuel, who has accepted the offer, was called “combative and foul-mouthed” when he served in the Clinton administration as a presidential aide.

Mr Emanuel may also be less appealing to the Arabs because of his staunchly pro-Israeli views and his father’s association with the squad that forced Palestinians to leave their homes for settling Jewish refugees.

Mr Obama’s aides say that his offer to Congressman Emanuel indicates the president-elect’s desire to maintain links to his political home, Chicago.

Mr Obama is likely to retain President Bush’s Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, at least in the transitional period. Mr Obama believes that retaining Mr Gates would send a positive signal to the Pentagon at a time when the United States is involved in two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, his aides say.

Michael Hayden, the CIA director, may also stay on at the intelligence agency.

Gen Anthony Zinni, a former chief of the US Central Command, has been mentioned as a possible nominee for the national security adviser’s job. His nomination, if it happens, will be good for Pakistan as he is known to have a soft corner for the country.

Republican Senator Richard Lugar has been tipped for the State Department. Another Republican senator, Chuck Hagel, is also likely to be a part of the Obama team.

Sources in the Obama camp say that Senator John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, is also being considered to replace Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State, while her predecessor Colin Powell - who shocked fellow Republicans by endorsing Mr Obama over John McCain - is a possible Pentagon chief or education secretary.

The president-elect wanted Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to continue, at least until he finds a good replacement for him. Mr Paulson, however, has said that he wants to retire as soon as possible.

This prompted sources in the Obama camp to acknowledge that the first major appointment Mr Obama may make is that of treasury secretary, who will oversee the $700 billion rescue package and help guide the economy through its worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Larry Summers, 53, who served in the same post under President Clinton, is favourite for the job. Another contender is Timothy Geithner, president of the New York Federal Reserve.

Mr Obama is also expected to make a powerful gesture to the Democratic Party heritage by offering Caroline Kennedy, whose father President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, the post of US ambassador to the United Nations.

And her cousin Robert F. Kennedy Jr., son of Senator Robert Kennedy, who was murdered in 1968, might become chief of the Environmental Protection Agency.

William Daley, a commerce secretary under President Clinton and Al Gore’s presidential campaign manager in 2000, has been appointed to the transition team and could be in line for a cabinet post.