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President Obama to nominate Panetta to succeed Gates

President Barack Obama intends to nominate CIA Director Leon E. Panetta as the next defense secretary, a senior administration official said today, speaking on background in advance of Obama's formal announcement, which is expected tomorrow.

If confirmed by the Senate, Panetta will replace Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who will leave office June 30, the official said. Gates was sworn in Dec. 18, 2006, as the 22nd secretary of defense. Gates is the only defense secretary in U.S. history to be asked to remain in that office by a newly elected president.

International Security Assistance Force Commander Army Gen. David H. Petraeus will retire from the service, and the president will nominate him to replace Panetta, the official said.

The president also intends to nominate veteran diplomat Ryan C. Crocker as the next U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John R. Allen, the current deputy at U.S. Central Command, to succeed Petraeus at ISAF, the official said.

“This is the culmination of a multimonth process to find nominees for these important positions,” the senior administration official said.

The president believes these choices put in place the “strongest possible team” to execute U.S.strategies and policies, the official said. This was important to Obama, he added, as the president looked at the way the nominees would interact and work together as a team.

The transition is being done in a way to provide a seamless transition, the official said. “There will be no gaps, no disruption, in execution of policy,” he added.

Obama has selected a very experienced team, the official said.

“That’s consistent with the position the president has taken with respect to his national security team: strong figures who work together and respect each other,” he said.

Panetta “brings all the necessary qualities to be a superb secretary of defense,” the official said. Panetta has had four decades of public service, starting as an Army second lieutenant in 1964. He served as White House chief of staff in the Clinton administration, as a member of Congress from California, and as the director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Crocker is one of the nation’s most respected diplomats, the official said. He has served as ambassador to Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon. He is the dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.

Petraeus is one of the pre-eminent military leaders in the world, the official said. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1974 and commanded the 101st Airborne Division during the initial phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He served as commander of Multinational Force Iraq, then as commander of U.S. Central Command, until he took his current job.

Allen is expected to take command in Afghanistan in September, the official said. He is a 1976 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and served as the Marine commander in Iraq in 2006 and 2007.

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