Washington: Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, is emerging as the frontrunner to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who is expected to leave the post of top American diplomat early next year.
Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon are also in line to succeed Hillary.
While all the three are confidant to the US President, Barack Obama, but Rice, 47, is said to be his most favourite. Obama has given Rice the status of a Cabinet Minister.
Rice will be the second African-American woman to hold the position -- the first being Condoleeza Rice under George W Bush.
The name of Bill Burns, the deputy secretary of state, is also doing the rounds in some circle.
Republican Senators have been very critical of Rice, after her comments on Libya that the attack on the US Consulate Benghazi was a result of mob violence agitated against an anti-Islam movie. However, the Obama Administration determined that this was a terrorist attack.
"Everybody knows that Susan Rice is a possibility, but would have some difficulties in confirmation, given the controversy over what happened in Libya. It`s anybody’s guess. The decisions of a single person are always very difficult to predict," Daniel Serwer, Professor, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, told foreign journalists. Top Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has gone public that Rice`s confirmation would be "virtually impossible".
Senators McCain, Graham, Kelly Ayotte and Ron Johnson have accused Rice of jumping the gun and disseminating false information about the attack.
As a result of strong opposition to her among Republican Senators, experts say Obama might have to do a lot of negotiations and back room manoeuvring have his favourite Rice`s nomination get it confirmed by the Senate.
Kerry, another confidant of Obama, might have a smooth Senate confirmation but the slender majority of the Democratic party might make go against this Massachusetts Senator.
Kerry has been Obama Administration`s problem solver on several key foreign policy issues especially when it comes to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"John Kerry is a sitting Senator. If he resigns to become Secretary of State, there has to be a new election in Massachusetts. And given the difficulties the Democrats have had in this round with Massachusetts, I`m not sure they want to go for that again.”
"And the majority in the Senate, if they are able to preserve it, is very, very important to the Administration and to the Democrats. So I`m not sure if John Kerry, who is an obvious name, is a likely name," Serwer said.
The Democratic Party in the next Congress would have 53 Senators in the 100-member Senate, which is an increase of two from the current Senate.
"Kerry`s chances may also be looking up now that his absence from the Senate won`t cost the Democrats a majority, though there are still questions about who would replace him on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee."
A Kerry resignation would trigger a special election in Massachusetts, potentially opening up a place for recently-defeated Republican Scott Brown, but that would still leave 53 Democrats in the Senate -- and 54 if the Independent Angus King decides to caucus with the Democrats," the Foreign Policy magazine said.
"Another reason to think Kerry could have the leg-up on Rice is that some of his former advisors -- including the State Department`s chief economist Heidi Crebo-Rediker and Steven Feldstein, director of USAID`s Office of Policy -- are already in the administration, though it`s not clear how much of a difference this will make," it said.