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Rice Pledges Full Support for Obama Staff Transition at State Department

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday said she will do all she can assure a smooth transition for the incoming Obama administration. Detailed preparations for the handover at the nation's foreign affairs agency are already underway. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Rice, the Bush administration's highest-ranking African American official, is hailing the election of the United States' first African-American President, and is pledging to do all she can to make the State Department transition as smooth as possible.

In comments to reporters, Rice called President-elect Obama inspirational and Republican candidate John McCain gracious in defeat. She said Tuesday's election was an exercise in democracy in which all Americans can be justifiably proud, especially those of African descent.

"As African American, I'm especially proud because this is a country that has been through a long journey in terms of overcoming wounds and making race not the factor in our lives. That work is not done, but yesterday was obviously an extraordinary step forward," said Rice.

Earlier Wednesday, State Department officials made a final walk-through inspection of a large suite of offices here that will accommodate the Obama administration's foreign policy transition team within a matter of days.

Extensive briefing books will await the Obama team, covering everything from the status of key foreign policy issues to the management of the vast department, which has more than 20,000 employees -- half of them overseas.

The Obama State Department transition team has more than 200 members, including several key foreign policy figures from past Democratic administrations.

The President-elect is expected to announce his choice for Secretary of State early in the transition period.

Although Mr. Obama has been non-committal, press speculation has focused on Democratic Senator John Kerry and Republican Senator Richard Lugar -- both colleagues of the President-elect on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Former Clinton administration diplomatic troubleshooter Richard Holbrooke, a key figure in 1990's Balkans peace efforts, is also a reported contender for Secretary of State.

The current Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, William Burns, is running the transition effort, with 24 State Department employees at work expediting security clearances and employment paperwork for incoming Obama transition members.