Gen. Zinni Says He Was Offered Iraq Post, Then Dropped
By Al Kamen
A curious tale of State Department intrigue emerged today as Gen. Anthony Zinni, formerly a Middle East envoy, said he was offered and accepted the job of ambassador to Iraq, only to be told on the eve of the announcement Monday that the job was going to assistant secretary for East Asia and North Korea nuclear program negotiator Christopher Hill. As Zinni recounted it to bloggers and reporters, the first approach on an ambassadorship was made before the inauguration by fellow Marine general, now National Security Adviser, James Jones.
Zinni said he met on Jan. 26 with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Deputy Secretary James Steinberg and undersecretary William Burns and was offered the job and accepted.
"The vice president called and congratulated me," Zinni told Foreign Policy.com (the magazine originally reported it was the president who had called).
But then several days passed and nothing happened. Zinni, getting his gear together, finally called Jones on Monday,and learned that Hill, whose expertise includes Poland, the Balkans and Asia, was the pick. Hill is very close to former U.N. ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who has been named a special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, a relationship that sparked speculation in the foreign policy community that Holbrooke may have weighed in for Hill to get the job.
One former senior official noted that it could have been that Zinni, who was executive vice president of Dyncorp, which does substantial business in Iraq, including police training and security, would have been subjected to criticism regarding conflicts of interest.
Another problem might have been that with another general, Karl Eikenberry, reportedly on tap to be ambassador to Afghanistan, sending a second general to Baghdad might send the wrong message.
Zinni said Jones, after telling him the Iraq spot was taken, asked if he wanted to go to Saudi Arabia. Zinni told Foreign Policy that he did not.
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