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Powell asks resignation of top assistant


Elise Labott
CNN Washington

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The State Department is trying to cast Secretary of State Colin Powell's request for the resignation of the department's top consular official as a routine step rather than the result of internal disagreements.

"Everything has its time," a state department official said Thursday, and Assistant Secretary of State Mary Ryan stayed over from the Clinton administration "with the understanding that Secretary Powell would tell her when it was time to go. Now is that time."

Ryan had served for nine years as head of consular affairs.

But the move comes amid growing Bush administration dissatisfaction with Ryan, capped by recent disclosures about fraudulently obtained visas being handed out in Qatar.

Three of the at least 70 people believed to have obtained the visas -- possibly by paying bribes to personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Qatar -- later roomed with two of the September 11 hijackers, State Department officials said Wednesday. There is no indication they were connected to terrorism, they said.

Ryan also was criticized for the "Visa Express" program that allowed Saudi Arabia residents to bypass some steps -- including an interview with an embassy official -- to get visas for entry into the United States.

The U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Robert W. Jordan, told the State Department this week he would resume interviews of all applicants, a State Department official said Thursday. The move is being taken in part in reaction to negative media reports about the Visa Express program, the official said.




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