United States Secretary of State

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The United States Secretary of State, appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, is the head of the United States Department of State and the President’s chief foreign affairs adviser. Under the United States Constitution, the President of the United States determines U.S. foreign policy. The Secretary carries out the President’s foreign policies through the State Department and the Foreign Service of the United States.

Created in 1789 by the Congress as the successor to the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of State is the senior executive Department of the U.S. Government. As the senior Cabinet member, the Secretary of State is fourth in line of succession to the Presidency.

The Secretary of State’s duties relating to foreign affairs have not changed significantly since then, but they have become far more complex as international commitments multiplied. These duties—the activities and responsibilities of the State Department—include the following:

  • Serves as the President’s principal adviser on U.S. foreign policy;
  • Conducts negotiations relating to U.S. foreign affairs;
  • Grants and issues passports to American citizens and exequaturs to foreign consuls in the United States;
  • Advises the President on the appointment of U.S. ambassadors, ministers, consuls, and other diplomatic representatives;
  • Advises the President regarding the acceptance, recall, and dismissal of the representatives of foreign governments;
  • Personally participates in or directs U.S. representatives to international conferences, organizations, and agencies;
  • Negotiates, interprets, and terminates treaties and agreements;
  • Ensures the protection of the U.S. Government to American citizens, property, and interests in foreign countries;
  • Supervises the administration of U.S. immigration laws abroad;
  • Provides information to American citizens regarding the political, economic, social, cultural, and humanitarian conditions in foreign countries;
  • Informs the Congress and American citizens on the conduct of U.S. foreign relations;
  • Promotes beneficial economic intercourse between the United States and other countries;
  • Administers the Department of State;
  • Supervises the Foreign Service of the United States.

In addition, the Secretary of State retains domestic responsibilities that Congress entrusted to the State Department in 1789. These include the custody of the Great Seal of the United States, the preparation of certain presidential proclamations, the publication of treaties and international acts as well as the official record of the foreign relations of the United States, and the custody of certain original treaties and international agreements. The Secretary also serves as the channel of communication between the Federal Government and the States on the extradition of fugitives to or from foreign countries.

The current Secretary of State is Colin Powell (as of December 2004). However, on November 12, 2004, Secretary Powell submitted his resignation to the President, "effective at your pleasure." Historically such resignations are effective upon the Senate's confirmation of a successor, which President Bush has nominated Condoleezza Rice.


Chronological List of US Secretaries of State

List of United States Secretaries of State

Related articles


  • Department of State (2001). Duties of the Secretary of State. Retrieved June 3, 2004.
  • Department of State. Former Secretaries of State. Retreived June 3, 2004.

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