WASHINGTON: The US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, has withdrawn her name from consideration for the appointment of secretary of state by the President, Barack Obama, making Senator John Kerry an even more likely candidate.
Her withdrawal is a political victory for the Republicans, who have been attacking Dr Rice since she made allegedly misleading public comments about the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in September.
Though her comments were based on talking points provided by US intelligence agencies, Dr Rice became the target of unproven claims that the White House engaged in a cover-up of a terrorist attack for political reasons.
John Kerry. Photo: AFP
More recently she has been at the centre of accusations that the Obama administration is downplaying Rwanda's role in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Rwanda's government was a client of Dr Rice's during her earlier career as a political consultant and she is close to Paul Kagame, the African country's president.
''If nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly - to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities,'' Dr Rice wrote to Mr Obama. ''That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country … Therefore, I respectfully request that you no longer consider my candidacy at this time.''
Dr Rice may still be appointed National Security Adviser, but she appears to have paid a heavy price for her loyalty to Mr Obama and his administration.
When she made the comments about the Benghazi affair to various Sunday morning political TV programs days after the attack, it was widely noted that the White House had made her its spokeswoman on the issue rather than the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, as might have been expected.
Mrs Clinton, who is believed to be considering her own run for the White House in 2016, has now been allowed to end her successful four-year stint as the nation's top diplomat free of scandal. She is expected to resign as soon as her successor has been selected.
In his first press conference after the election, Mr Obama angrily defended Dr Rice against attacks led by the Republican senator John McCain, but since then it has become clear that Dr Rice's appointment, which must be confirmed by the Senate, could prove to be a politically damaging way for Mr Obama to begin his new term.
Senator Kerry has indicated he will take the job if nominated, and congressional Republicans have voiced their support for him.
At a recent press conference, Senator McCain jokingly introduced him as ''Mr Secretary''.
A move by Senator Kerry to the State Department would leave his Massachusetts seat vulnerable to a Republican bid to win it back.
Though Democrats increased their Senate majority in last month's general election, both parties consider each of the 100 seats critical and spend vast amounts on winning and defending them. Senator Kerry's seat could be targeted by the outgoing Republican senator from Massachusetts, Scott Brown, who lost his own seat in November.
''As I've said many times before, victory and defeat is temporary,'' Mr Brown said in a farewell speech on Wednesday.
''Depending on what happens, and where we go, all of us, we may obviously meet again, but I'm looking forward to continuing on with those friendships, and with continuing on working with my staff.''
Senator Kerry's name has also been floated as a possible replacement for the out- going Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta.
Mr Obama is putting together a new cabinet, and nominees are expected be to announced as they are decided in the lead-up to his inauguration on January 20.
Frontrunner for the Secretary of Defence role is Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska who supported Mr Obama in 2008. Michele Flournoy, a think-tank superstar, who would be the first woman in this job, is also mentioned as an outside chance.
For Homeland Security, the ''supercop'' Bill Bratton, who ran police departments in New York, Los Angeles and Boston, is in the running and Janet Napolitano, former governor of Arizona and present Secretary of Homeland Security, may move to the Attorney-General's chair.