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Envoy Post to Remain After Holbrooke's Death

President Barack Obama is introduced by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a holiday reception for international diplomats at the State Department in Washington, where they praised the work of the late Amb. Richard Holbrooke, Dec 13, 2010

The State Department said Tuesday the post of U.S. envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan will be continued following the death of the job's first occupant, Richard Holbrooke. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed Holbrooke as an indispensable colleague.

Obama administration officials describe Holbrooke, a 40-year diplomatic veteran, as virtually irreplaceable. They say the structure he built, though, as the first U.S. envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan will remain in place, and that the post he pioneered two years ago will remain.

Holbrooke's deputy, senior diplomat Frank Ruggiero, has assumed the late envoy's duties on an acting basis, and took his place Tuesday at key White House meetings capping the Obama administration's soon-to-be-completed Afghan policy review.

A senior State Department official told reporters a replacement for Holbrooke will named in due course, and that Ruggiero, a former senior official in the department's bureau of political-military affairs, cannot be excluded as a possible successor.

Tributes to Holbrooke continue to flow in from U.S. political figures and officials around the world. President Barack Obama called him a "unique figure" and a "true giant of American foreign policy."

In her first public remarks Tuesday on Holbrooke's death, Clinton called him a valued friend, a trusted mentor and an indispensable colleague to generations of U.S. diplomats.

"It has been remarkable to see the tributes coming in from around the world," said Clinton. "The word that keeps being said over and over again is 'statesman.' It's a word that we don't use much anymore. But Richard embodied it. A man who loved our country and dedicated his life to serving not only our people, but the cause of peace, a diplomat who used every tool in the toolbox and someone who accomplished so much on behalf of so many."

Holbrooke suffered a ruptured aorta during a meeting with Clinton last Friday and died late Monday at a hospital a few blocks from the State Department.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Holbrooke's last words, to doctors preparing him for surgery late Friday, were that "you've got to stop this war in Afghanistan."

State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley addressed the issue at a news briefing, saying Holbrooke's comments were part of a light-hearted exchange with doctors attending him as opposed to criticism of U.S. war policy.

"At one point, the medical team said you've got to relax," said Crowley. "And Richard said: 'I can't relax, I'm worried about Afghanistan and Pakistan.' And then after some additional exchanges, the medical team finally said: 'We'll try to fix this challenge while you're undergoing surgery.' And he [Holbrooke] said: 'Yeah. See if you can take care of that, including ending the war.'"

Crowley said his version of the exchange was reconstructed from accounts of several people present at Holbrooke's bedside, and reflected the late envoy's "singular focus" on bringing U.S. efforts in the region to a successful conclusion.