Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell on Tuesday urged greater recruitment of minorities in the US Foreign Service just four days after becoming the first African-American to be nominated Washington's top diplomat.
Powell, who was tapped for the position on Saturday by President-elect George W. Bush, said he would continue efforts begun by current Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to improve cultural diversity at US diplomatic missions.
"This is great. This is the kind of thing that I will be dedicated to," Powell said after attending a State Department ceremony in which Albright inked a deal with one of the country's most prestigious black colleges, Howard University, to encourage African-Americans to become diplomats.
"America overseas should look like America at home," Powell told reporters after applauding the agreement that will provide federal funding for mentoring and seminar programs between serving US diplomats and Howard faculty and staff.
"I'm very pleased to have had the opportunity to crash this ceremony," he joked, noting that he had come upon the event by chance as he entered the State Department for a private lunch with Albright to discuss the transition.
Powell, who sits on Howard's board of directors, had been unaware of the event, apparently because his staff thought it inappropriate for him to attend a formal State Department ceremony before he took office, according to Democratic Representative Charles Rangel of New York, who was also in attendance.
Albright stressed that plans to create the program with Howard had been underway for some time, but she noted with pleasure the convergence of his appointment with the official announcement.
"I can't imagine a more historic moment for this initiative," she said.
"If the Senate agrees, ... the first female secretary of state will be followed by the first African-American secretary of state, it's a close call," she said to applause from the audience.
Albright lamented the fact that minorities make up only about 10 percent of US Foreign Service officers and added that it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract those with talent.
"We need to persuade young people that a career in the foreign service is really 'cool' or 'hip' or whatever young people say these days," Albright quipped.
"We need to make sure the State Department represents the diversity of America," she said -- WASHINGTON (AFP)
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