WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton still plans to step down as America's top diplomat despite President Barack Obama's re-election, but will ensure a smooth transition, US officials said Wednesday.

"I don't think the secretary's plans have changed," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

"You've heard her say many times that she intends to see through a transition of a successor and then she will go back to private life and enjoy some rest, and think and write and all those things."

But with a mountain of foreign policy headaches clamoring for attention, Nuland refused to spell out what the administration first priorities would be following Tuesday night's elections, saying that was up to Obama.

"We just had an election last night. There are people who were up a lot of the night counting and enjoying it. So I'm not going to stand here and make any big predictions on the second term," she told journalists.

Clinton has said she plans to stand down at the end of her four-year term in January, but will stay on long enough to ensure a smooth transition with her successor which could mean remaining on the job into the early part of 2013.

Amid the bitter election campaign pitting Obama against his Republican rival Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton, who has been a steadfast champion of American values, enjoyed the highest popularity ratings of any administration figure.

Obama has said that he has begged her to stay on, and she has refused, keen to become a private citizen again after some two decades in the public eye, during which she has also served as First Lady during the two-term presidency of her husband, Bill, and as a New York senator.

"She seems pretty set in her plans," Nuland confirmed Wednesday, after Clinton returned to her home in New York to cast her ballot in Tuesday's vote.

There are still lingering suspicions that Clinton, now 65, might once again bid to be the nation's first women president this time in 2016, after being defeated by Obama in 2008. But publicly she has emphatically ruled this out.

Rumors have swirled for months as to who could follow in her footsteps, and take up the helm of the State Department and its 60,000 staff worldwide.

Current US ambassador to United Nations, Susan Rice, had been seen as one possible successor, but her reputation might now be tarnished over the fallout from the militant attack on the US mission in Benghazi, eastern Libya.

Another name mentioned in corridors is that of respected senator John Kerry, current chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs committee and former Democratic presidential candidate.

It will be up to Obama to decide on his nominations for his next cabinet, which will take office after his inauguration in late January. And the nominations will have to be approved by the new Senate.