CHICAGO // The US president-elect Barack Obama will unveil his national security team today with former rival Hillary Clinton picked as secretary of state and Robert Gates staying on as defence secretary. The pair, who have been at odds with Mr Obama in the past over foreign policy and defence issues, will have the task of implementing Mr Obama's vision for "renewing" America's leadership in world affairs, rebuilding its image abroad, and overseeing two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Today's announcement has been given added emphasis by last week's rampage in India's financial capital of Mumbai by gunmen who killed nearly 200 people, including at least five US citizens, ratcheting up tensions with nuclear-armed rival Pakistan, which New Delhi said was linked to the attacks. With polls showing most Americans more concerned about the dire state of the economy than national security, Mr Obama spent much of last week naming leading members of his economic team and presenting himself as a strong chief executive officer.
But the Mumbai attacks were a timely reminder that Mr Obama will not have the luxury of focusing only on fixing the economy as he succeeds the outgoing president George W Bush. His vice president-elect, Joe Biden, warned during the presidential campaign that Mr Obama could be tested by a national security crisis within six months of taking office on Jan 20. US authorities warned last week of a possible al Qa'eda threat to transit systems in and around New York City, although they added there was no specific information to confirm the plot had developed "beyond aspirational planning".
A Democratic official confirmed Mr Obama had chosen Mr Gates and Ms Clinton, as well as retired Marine Gen James Jones as national security adviser. They will be named at a Chicago news conference at 10.40am local time. Other positions were likely to be announced, possibly including the Arizona Gov Janet Napolitano as head of homeland security, the former Justice Department official Eric Holder as lawyer general and Susan Rice, an Obama foreign policy adviser, as UN ambassador.
US media say the defence secretary, Mr Gates, who had previously said he wanted to leave at the end of the Bush administration, has agreed to stay on, although it is not clear for how long. While Mr Gates avoided direct criticism of Mr Obama during the election campaign, he has advocated policies that have been at odds with Mr Obama on issues such as the Iraq war. Mr Obama wants to withdraw US troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office, but Mr Gates has argued against setting timetables and a quick pullout, saying it could jeopardise the security gains that have been made over the past year.
However, Mr Gates, praised by Democrats and Republicans since taking over the Pentagon from Donald Rumsfeld in 2006, would provide continuity at the Pentagon while the United States fights two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr Obama clashed with Ms Clinton during a bitter campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Ms Clinton famously ran an advertisement depicting a 3am crisis call at the White House to argue that Mr Obama, a first-term Illinois senator, was not ready to be commander-in-chief.
Ms Clinton has also tended to talk tougher, once saying she would "obliterate" Iran if it attacked Israel. She criticised as "naive" Mr Obama's call for direct presidential-level engagement with foes like Iran and North Korea. But Ms Clinton broadly sides with Mr Obama in supporting a greater emphasis on engagement in US foreign policy. The New York Times reported on Saturday that Ms Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, had agreed to make public the names of more than 200,000 donors to his foundation as part of a deal with Mr Obama to clear the way for his wife to become secretary of state.
The newspaper said Mr Clinton had decided to publish his contributor lists to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest with his wife's duties as secretary of state. A member of Mr Obama's transition team confirmed to Reuters the conditions of the agreement as reported by the Times. * Reuters