WASHINGTON – US Defense Secretary Robert Gates will sit out Barack Obama's inauguration at an undisclosed location as the "designated successor" in the event of a catastrophe, the White House announced Monday.
While the eyes of the world are glued Tuesday to Obama's historic swearing-in, attended by outgoing US President George W. Bush and both outgoing and incoming senior aides, Gates will stay away, said spokeswoman Dana Perino.
"In order to ensure continuity of government, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been designated by the outgoing administration, with the concurrence of the incoming administration, to serve as the designated successor during Inauguration Day, Tuesday, January 20th," Perino said.
It is common practice for one senior US official to sit out major events, like the annual State of the Union speech, to ensure that the US government has clear leadership in the event of a disaster or terrorist attack.
But Washington has been especially attuned to the potential problems of succession because Obama's swearing-in is the first US presidential transition since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Gates is an unusually good choice as a bridge between the two administrations: Bush chose him to be his defense secretary in November 2006 and Obama has decided to keep him on in that post.
Gates "will be spending the day at a military installation outside the national capital region," said spokesman Geoff Morrell, who declined to offer further details, citing security concerns.
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