Kerry touted Panetta’s “extraordinarily deep institutional knowledge of the White House, Congress, and the CIA.” The senator said Panetta has gained “broad respect for the way he pragmatically, thoughtfully confronted the vexing challenges of Iraq through his work on the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.”

Kerry also said Panetta is respected by members of both political parties “for his work to repair the image and the credibility of the CIA.”

Panetta would replace soon-to-retire Defense Secretary Robert Gates, whom Kerry said “helped end the turf battles and inter-agency divide of the [Donald] Rumsfeld era, and he seamlessly integrated the Pentagon’s goals into America’s broader foreign policy agenda.”

Kerry called Petraeus one of “the very best military leaders of his generation.”

Obama also will announce two other moves.

The president has selected Ryan Crocker, a former ambassador to Iraq, as the next U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. Lt. Gen. John Allen, now deputy U.S. Central Command chief, will be tapped as successor to Petraeus in Afghanistan.

The president feels this will give him the “strongest possible team” and will provide a “seamless transition” as the White House gets used to life without retiring Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a senior White House official said Wednesday during a conference call with reporters.

Kerry said he plans to hold “an early confirmation hearing” on Crocker’s nomination.

While the White House would like the other three officials in place later this summer, it wants Crocker on the job as soon as possible.