WASHINGTON, Nov. 9, 1988 (UPI) - President-elect George Bush announced Wednesday that his fishing buddy and campaign chief James Baker, who ran the White House staff in President Reagan's first term, is his choice to become secretary of state.
The choice of the 58-year-old Baker, Bush said, sends ''a stabilizing signal around the world'' while underscoring the high priority he assigns to foreign policy.
''His proven skills as a negotiator and the personal respect in which he is held will allow him again to demonstrate the highest standards of performance as our next secretary of state,'' Bush said.
Bush, who will become the nation's 41st president in January, has already announced he will seek an early summit meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
The selection of Baker, a Texan and longtime friend of Bush, to run the State Department was surprising only in the swiftness of its announcement. Baker had resigned as Reagan's treasury secretary -- a post where he earned high marks in the international community -- to run the successful Republican campaign and it was well known in Washington that he wanted to move to the No. 1 Cabinet job.
The move suggests that major foreign policy decision-making will once again be centered in the State Department rather than the White House National Security Council.
Bush, who made the announcement at a morning news conference in Houston, said he had called Secretary of State George Shultz to tell him of the decision and Shultz pronounced himself ''just delighted'' with the choice.
Senate Republican leader Robert Dole of Kansas called the Baker choice ''ideal'' and predicted easy Senate confirmation.
Bush also announced that he has named senior advisers Craig Fuller and Robert Teeter to oversee the 73-day transition period between now and when he moves into the Oval Office.
Baker also ran Bush's unsuccessful campaign against Reagan in 1980 and, when Bush became the vice presidential nominee, Baker joined the Reagan team. Reagan made Baker his chief of staff and the almost-flawless first four years of the Reagan presidency was often attributed to Baker's skills.
At the news conference before flying to Washington, Bush said he would probably make more personnel announcements, perhaps more Cabinet positions, ''within a couple of weeks,'' after a long weekend holiday in Florida.
On the flight to the capital, Bush told reporters he was ''going to, obviously, take a keen personal interest in the Cabinet and a lot of other appointments.''
Recalling that ''the Nixon Cabinet was all announced in one dramatic announcement ceremony,'' Bush said, ''I'm not going to do that.''
As the Baker announcement was made, speculation grew about who would fill other Cabinet jobs and which Reagan appointees, if any, would be asked to stay on.
For example, Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady, who succeeded Baker, is widely considered likely to remain. Another likely holdover is Education Secretary Lauro Cavazos, for whose appointment Bush actively lobbied as he campaigned on a promise to appoint a Hispanic to the Cabinet.
At the same time, speculation was divided on whether Attorney General Dick Thornburgh has a future after Jan. 20. Thornburgh, selected by Reagan to head the law enforcement agency after the controversial tenure of Edwin Meese, might not fit in a Bush effort to create a government in his own image.
Thornburgh, questioned on the issue, said, ''It would be presumptuous for me to try to predict what the president-elect's going to do.''
''I think he wants to deliberate very carefully on the team that he puts together and that's as it should be,'' Thornburgh said.
Other speculation included:
--New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, an ardent Bush supporter who is leaving office, has been mentioned as a possible energy secretary or perhaps even White House chief of staff. Former Deputy Treasury Secretary Richard Darman, a Baker associate, was touted as possible head of the Office of Management and Budget. Both were in Houston with Bush election night.
--A half-dozen names are circulating to succeed Agriculture Secretary Richard Lyng, who plans to retire when Reagan leaves office, including Deputy Secretary Peter Myers, Trade Representative Clayton Yeutter, former American Farm Bureau president Robert Delano of Virginia and former Iowa congressman and Bush campaign adviser Cooper Evans.
--Retiring Sen. Dan Evans, R-Wash., has indicated an interest in the Interior Department and is seen as a top contender. But Sen. James McClure, R-Idaho, is also considered a possibility, as is New Mexico Gov. Garrey Carruthers, a former assistant secretary in the department.
--Sources in the Environmental Protection Agency and in environmental community saw Micheal Deland, now regional EPA administrator for New England, as a top candidate. Other names being mentioned included Frank Blake, a former general counsel, and Chris DeMuth, a former OMB official. Current EPA chief Lee Thomas is seen as a dark horse candidate to stay on in the Bush administration.