U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick (search) will leave that post to become Condoleezza Rice's top deputy at the State Department, congressional officials said Thursday.

Two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Rice wants Zoellick to take the deputy secretary of state position once she is confirmed by the Senate as the successor to Secretary of State Colin Powell (search).

The deputy position, which is subject to Senate confirmation, has been held by Richard Armitage during Powell's time at State.

The officials said the formal announcement of Zoellick's selection is not likely to come until after Rice's Senate confirmation hearing, scheduled for Jan. 18. Zoellick and Rice worked together on foreign policy issues during the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

The selection of Zoellick means President Bush (search) will have another Cabinet-level position to fill at the trade office.

Among those being mentioned to succeed Zoellick as the administration's top trade negotiator are Grant Aldonas, the undersecretary for international trade at the Commerce Department; U.S. Deputy Trade Representative Josette Shiner; Al Johnson, chief agriculture trade negotiator at the trade office; Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz.; and Robert Kimmitt, the head of global policy at Time Warner Inc.

Meanwhile, an administration official said Nicholas Burns, U.S. ambassador to NATO, is slated for the State Department's third-ranking position, under secretary for political affairs.

Burns, a career diplomat, has served as ambassador to Greece and as spokesman for former secretaries of state Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright.

Zoellick's replacement at the trade office will face the daunting task of getting congressional approval for the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which would tear down trade barriers between the United States and five Central American countries plus the island nation of the Dominican Republic.

While the administration sees the pact as a continuation of its efforts to open markets for American manufacturers and farmers, it has attracted opposition from a wide variety of groups, ranging from organized labor to U.S. sugar producers and textile manufacturers.

The next trade negotiator will also be faced with jump-starting talks to create a hemisphere-wide free trade zone, one of the administration's top trade goals, and completing the round of global trade talks being conducted at Doha, Qatar, by the World Trade Organization.

Opponents of the administration's free trade efforts contend that the policies have failed to protect U.S. workers from unfair competition from low-wage countries with lax environmental laws. To buttress their case, they point to a loss of 2.7 million manufacturing jobs over the past four years and a trade deficit that could approach $600 billion for 2004.

Zoellick did score some impressive victories during his tenure at the trade office, including winning congressional approval for Trade Promotion Authority, which gave the administration the authority to negotiate new trade deals, legislation that had been stalled for most of the Clinton administration.

Using that authority, Zoellick completed free trade negotiations with Australia, Morocco, Bahrain, Chile and Singapore.

Zoellick had an earlier tour of duty at the State Department as undersecretary for economic affairs during the administration of Bush's father when James A. Baker III was secretary of state. In that post, he worked with Rice, who was then serving at the National Security Council at the White House.

Zoellick had also been considered a top candidate to succeed James A. Wolfensohn as head of the World Bank.

Among others who have been mentioned for the World Bank job are Powell, who so far has not expressed interest in the position; John Taylor, Treasury undersecretary for international affairs; Peter McPherson, the former head of Michigan State University who served as Bush's point person on rebuilding Iraq's financial system; Randall Tobias, Bush's global AIDS coordinator; and Christine Todd Whitman, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Wolfensohn announced on Sunday that he expects to step down as head of the World Bank in May when his second five-year term is up.