Senior Rice aide, Philip Zelikow resigns from post

By Sue Pleming Mon Nov 27, 2:55 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Philip Zelikow, one of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's closest advisers on Iraq and the Middle East, will quit his post to return to university teaching, a State Department official said on Monday.

In his resignation letter to Rice which was made available to Reuters, Zelikow said "family and professional concerns" led to his decision to return to the University of Virginia next year.

Zelikow, who was counselor to Rice and had an office down the hall from the top U.S. diplomat, was involved in many of the major issues facing the United States and also acted as a trouble-shooter for Rice.

He spent months examining U.S. policy toward Iraq and the reconstruction effort, saying in a confidential memorandum after a visit to Iraq that it had the potential to be a "catastrophic failure," according to the recent book "State of Denial" by Washington Post editor Bob Woodward.

In addition to Iraq and the Middle East, Zelikow also helped craft U.S. policy on terrorism suspects held without trial at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.

"To an extent that few can appreciate, you have given me an extraordinary opportunity to contribute what I could on many matters of high importance," said Zelikow in the letter.

But that contribution was not without its controversy.

In September, Zelikow caused some ripples in the Bush administration when he suggested during a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy that to build a coalition for dealing with Iran, the United States needed to make progress on solving the Arab-Israeli dispute.

"For the Arab moderates and for the Europeans, some sense of progress and momentum on the Arab-Israeli dispute is just a sine qua non for their ability to cooperate actively with the United States on a lot of other things that we care about," he said in the speech.

The Bush administration sought afterward to reassure the Israelis that there had not been a change in policy.

Asked whether his speech had contributed to the decision to leave on January 2, a State Department official said this was not the case. "This is one of those rare cases in Washington where someone is leaving on their own terms," said the official.

Before joining Rice's staff last year, Zelikow was director of the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs. He was also executive director of the commission investigating the September 11 attacks against the United States.