CRAWFORD, Texas - Retired Gen. Colin Powell, a son of the South Bronx who rose to become America's highest ranking military officer, accepted President-elect Bush's nomination as secretary of state Saturday, pledging to strengthen U.S. alliances and stand firm against nations that practice terrorism.
''We will defend our interests from a position of strength,'' Powell said.
With tears in his eyes, Bush praised his first Cabinet pick as ''an American hero, an American example and a great American story.''
Powell would become the first black secretary of state - just as he was the first black to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, R-N.C., said Powell will make an ''exceptional'' secretary of state and promised to gain his Senate confirmation before Bush's Jan. 20 inauguration.
The committee's ranking Democrat, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, said he would work with Helms to move the nomination quickly. ''At the present time, I foresee no problems,'' Biden said, calling Powell ''a man of great integrity.''
Outlining his foreign policy priorities, Bush promised to use America's ''unique power and unmatched influence'' to further the spread of democracy and peace around the world.
''In this cause, I know of no better person to be the face and voice of American diplomacy than Colin Powell,'' he said with his nominee and Vice President-elect Dick Cheney standing by his side during the ceremony at a Crawford elementary school.
Bush praised Powell's ''directness of speech, his towering integrity, his deep respect for our democracy, and his soldier's sense of duty.''
Powell said the United States must reject isolationism and stay engaged with the world.
He pledged to work with countries like Russia and China, not as adversaries but as strategic partners. And he said the United States would stand firm with its allies against nations that pursue weapons of mass destruction or sponsor terrorism.
''I think these are promising times, times of great opportunity but times also of challenge and danger,'' Powell said. ''We are up to the task.''
Powell, 63, a major player in national security councils during the administrations of Ronald Reagan, Bush's father and - for several months - Bill Clinton, was treated as a hero after the Persian Gulf War and found his name floated as a presidential prospect.
But despite his star power in the Republican Party, he disavowed interest in partisan politics and in the presidency.
The appointment is the first for Bush's national security team and his Cabinet. On Sunday, he will name Stanford University administrator Condoleezza Rice, who is also black, as his national security adviser, and make other top White House appointments, GOP officials said. A senior Bush aid she will a top foreign policy advisor and participate in Cabinet meetings but, following the tradition of past administrations, will do so without formal Cabinet rank that would require Senate confirmation.
Rice also served under former President Bush, as a Russia specialist on the National Security Council staff.
Reaction to the Powell nomination came from Congress and from overseas.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., called Bush's announcement ''a splendid start'' for the new Cabinet. He praised Powell as a ''tested warrior, devoted to the ways of peace.''
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said Powell is a ''distinguished general and politician and I look forward to working with him.''
Israel's deputy defense minister, Ephraim Sneh, welcomed the appointment. ''We are encouraged by his commitment to the continuity of U.S. policy in facilitating the Israeli-Palestinian peace process,'' Sneh said. ''His military background and especially his leading role in the Gulf War make him aware of the threat of rogue regimes in our region.''
In response to questions, Powell said he would monitor any Middle East peace talks during the waning days of the Clinton administration. ''It is absolutely a given that under a Bush administration America will remain very engaged in the Middle East.''
On Iraq, he said, ''My judgment is that sanctions of some form must be kept in place ... we are not doing this to hurt the Iraqi people, we are doing this to protect the people of the region.''
Powell was chairman of the joint chiefs during the Persian Gulf War. The Bush administration was criticized by some analysts for stopping the war against Iraq too soon and leaving Saddam Hussein in power.
Asked about U.S. troop deployments to Bosnia and elsewhere, he said, ''Our plan is to undertake a review right after the president is inaugurated... Our armed forces are stretched rather thin and there is a limit to how many of these deployments we can sustain.''
In a reminder of how far he's come, Powell noted that reports about his nomination would say ''Colin Powell, first African-American to ever hold the position of secretary of state. And I'm glad they will say that, and I want it repeated.''
He thanked Bush for holding the ceremony at an elementary school, rather than at the Texas governor's nearby ranch.
''I'm from the South Bronx,'' Powell said, ''and I don't care what you say, those cows look dangerous.''
Powell did go to the ranch afterward, however, for lunch with Bush and Bush's wife, Laura, and Cheney.
Even as Bush sought to project unity and harmony, assembling a Cabinet was proving difficult.
The job of the third member of the national security triad - defense secretary - was a matter of contention within the Bush camp, pitting Powell against Cheney, said people close to the process, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Powell was pushing for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge as defense secretary, while Cheney, a former defense secretary, wants the job to go to former Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., the sources said.
Ridge, who as an Army enlisted man won the Bronze Star for combat service in the Vietnam War, is Powell's favorite, said the sources.
Coats is a former member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and popular with Senate leaders.