CHICAGO — President-elect Barack Obama has chosen his foreign policy adviser, Susan E. Rice, to be ambassador to the United Nations, picking an advocate of “dramatic action” against genocide as he rounds out his national security team, Democrats close to the transition said Sunday.
Mr. Obama intends to announce Ms. Rice’s selection at a news conference here Monday along with his previously reported decisions to nominate Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton for secretary of state, keep Robert M. Gates as defense secretary and appoint Gen. James L. Jones, a retired Marine commandant, his national security adviser, the Democrats said.
The choice of Ms. Rice to represent the United States before the United Nations will make her one of the most visible faces of the Obama administration to the outside world aside from Mrs. Clinton. It will also send to the world organization a prominent and forceful advocate of stronger action, including military force if necessary, to stop mass killings like those in the Darfur region of Sudan in recent years.
To reinforce his intention to work more closely with the United Nations after the tensions of President Bush’s tenure, Mr. Obama plans to restore the ambassador’s post to cabinet rank, as it was under President Bill Clinton, according to Democrats close to the transition.
While the cabinet consists of 15 department heads, a president can give other positions the same rank for the duration of his administration.
“She’s obviously one of Obama’s closest advisers, so it underscores how much of a priority he’s making the position,” said Nancy Soderberg, a senior United States diplomat at the United Nations under Mr. Clinton. “If you look at the last eight years, we obviously need to be more engaged at the U.N. and realistic about what the U.N. can do.”
At Monday’s announcement, the president-elect will also formally unveil his nominations of Eric H. Holder Jr. to be attorney general and Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona to be secretary of homeland security, the Democrats said. He will not announce any of the top intelligence appointments on Monday, but the Democrats said they expected him soon to name Adm. Dennis C. Blair, a retired Pacific Fleet commander, as director of national intelligence.
If confirmed, Ms. Rice at 44 would be the second-youngest ambassador to the United Nations. A Rhodes scholar who earned a doctorate in international relations at Oxford University, she joined Mr. Clinton’s National Security Council staff in 1993 before rising to assistant secretary of state for African affairs at age 32. When Mr. Obama decided to run for president, she signed up as one of his top advisers, much to the consternation of the Clinton camp, which resented what it saw as a defection.
As the ambassador at the United Nations, Ms. Rice will have to coordinate with Mrs. Clinton, but will not be in the White House or at State Department headquarters on a daily basis as major policies are formulated. One person close to Mrs. Clinton said the senator did not object to Ms. Rice serving at the United Nations.
Some colleagues from her Clinton and Obama days said Ms. Rice can be blunt and unafraid to “mix it up,” as one put it, on behalf of issues she cares about. Ms. Rice herself acknowledges a certain impatience at times.
Admirers said she is a good listener and able to stand up to strong personalities, including foreign autocrats and militants in volatile regions of the world.
“Susan certainly is tough, and she’s tough in exactly the right way,” said Strobe Talbott, a former deputy secretary of state and now president of the Brookings Institution, where Ms. Rice has worked in recent years. “She’s intellectually tough, she’s tough in her approach to how the policymaking process should work and she will be very effective as a diplomat.”
John R. Bolton, who was one of Mr. Bush’s ambassadors at the United Nations, would not discuss Ms. Rice’s selection, but said it was unwise to elevate the position to the cabinet again.
“One, it overstates the role and importance the U.N. should have in U.S. foreign policy,” Mr. Bolton said. “Second, you shouldn’t have two secretaries in the same department.”
During her first run at the State Department, Ms. Rice was a point person in responding to Al Qaeda’s 1998 bombing of United States Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. But her most searing experience was visiting Rwanda after the 1994 genocide when she was still on the N.S.C. staff.
As she later described the scene, the hundreds, if not thousands, of decomposing, hacked up bodies that she saw haunted her and fueled a desire to never let it happen again.
“I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required,” she told The Atlantic Monthly in 2001. She eventually became a sharp critic of the Bush administration’s handling of the Darfur killings and last year testified before Congress on behalf of an American-led bombing campaign or naval blockade to force a recalcitrant Sudanese government to stop the slaughter.
Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition, praised the pending Rice nomination on Sunday, calling it a powerful sign of the new president’s interest in the issue. The coalition is urging Mr. Obama to begin a “peace surge” of sustained diplomacy to address the continuing problems in Sudan.
“It sends a very strong signal about his approach to the issue of Sudan and Africa in general,” Mr. Fowler said. Ms. Rice will be joining a high-powered team on stage with Mr. Obama on Monday, most notably Mrs. Clinton.
The two rivals from the polarizing battle for the Democratic presidential nomination will seal their reconciliation with Mrs. Clinton’s nomination to head the State Department.
At a time when the country remains engaged in two wars and still faces the threat of international terrorism, Mrs. Clinton will anchor a national security team with more of a centrist character than some of Mr. Obama’s liberal supporters once hoped to see.
Some critics have pointed out that the team represents experience rather than the change Mr. Obama promised. But it also drew praise from across the aisle.
“The triumvirate of Gates, Clinton and Jones to lead Obama’s national security team instills great confidence at home and abroad and further strengthens the growing respect for the president-elect’s courage and ability to exercise sound judgment in selecting the best and the brightest to implement our nation’s security policies,” said Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, a former chairman of the Armed Services Committee.