The White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, told reporters that the president’s staff was aware of Mr. Huntsman’s imminent departure. But he dismissed reports that aides increasingly believe he will challenge the president.
“Ambassador Huntsman has told several people inside this building that he plans to leave during the first part of this year,” Mr. Gibbs said. “I have talked to several people inside this building and I have not heard anybody say they know what the future holds for Ambassador Huntsman.”
A former Republican governor of Utah, Mr. Huntsman was widely seen as a potential rival to Mr. Obama until the president chose to send him to China. Most political observers had expected that Mr. Huntsman might seek the presidency in 2016, after his boss would be off the scene.
But confidants of Mr. Huntsman’s back home have said he is considering whether to move more quickly by trying to capture the Republican nomination in 2012.
That would put the ambassador in an awkward position for the next several months. But Mr. Gibbs said the White House expected that Mr. Huntsman would focus his attention on China-related issues for as long as he remained in the job.
“We believed and continue to believe that he brings a broad range of experience to an extremely important ambassadorial post with one of our most important relationships in the world,” Mr. Gibbs said.
“The president and I think the American people expect that somebody that holds the post of ambassador from the United States to China will dedicate their full energy and time to that position,” Mr. Gibbs added. “And we believe that Ambassador Huntsman believes that as well.”
Mr. Huntsman has delivered a letter of resignation to President Obama and will leave his post effective April 30, a White House official said Monday evening.