- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 27, 2003

Secretary Powell

As it happens at most major news organizations, our reporters who cover the White House, State Department, Pentagon and other major government agencies submit standing requests to interview the president or secretary and check from time to time to make sure the request has not been forgotten.

Administration press officers work through the lists of requests according to their own criteria, and one day, seemingly out of the blue, an interview is granted.

Our State Department correspondent Nicholas Kralev put in a request for an interview with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell a few months ago. Mr. Powell, understandably, did not know about it until Mr. Kralev mentioned it to him during a chat they had on the secretary’s plane, on a trip to Asia and the Middle East in late June.

Mr. Powell said, “Sure,” and suggested that Mr. Kralev “bring along” our editor in chief, Wesley Pruden, and the editorial page editor, Tony Blankley.

A week later, Mr. Kralev was told that Mr. Powell was prepared to give us an interview, but because not everyone who was supposed to be there was in town that week, the interview was to be rescheduled after Mr. Powell’s trip to Africa with President Bush the following week.

I was not surprised then, to get a call from Mr. Pruden the Tuesday after the president returned from Africa to say that Mr. Powell had been trying to call both him and Mr. Blankley. Mr. Pruden wondered whether I had any idea what the call was about.

Almost certainly, Mr. Powell was calling to reschedule the interview, I assured him confidently, though if I had thought about it, that is not the sort of thing a secretary of state does on his own.

I couldn’t have been much further off the mark: On that morning, our newspaper had published a highly controversial letter purporting to be from a senior U.S. diplomat in Europe, and Mr. Powell was calling to tell us the letter was a fraud.

The newspaper acted as promptly as possible to admit and correct the error, which was accomplished by the time the interview finally came through Tuesday.

A visit to State

Our delegation arrived at the State Department about 15 minutes early for the 2 p.m. session, led by a spiffy-looking Mr. Pruden in a seersucker suit, straw boater and two-tone brogues. Our group also included Mr. Blankley, Managing Editor Fran Coombs, Mr. Kralev, photographer Daniel Rosenbaum and myself.

We were to have 30 minutes with the secretary, but the photographer would have to get his shots in the first five minutes and would then be escorted out, we were told as we were led to the department’s exalted seventh floor.

There, we were directed through a series of finely appointed rooms decorated with oriental carpets, antique furniture and oil paintings of various American dignitaries spanning the history of the republic.

Finally, we were led into a smallish room and seated along one side of an oval table which, judging from the brass plaques fixed to it, had been used at some past conference of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations. I found myself between the name plaques for former French President Francois Mitterrand and the Japanese prime minister of that time.

Mr. Powell entered the room promptly at 2 p.m. and took a seat facing us, flanked by his spokesman, Richard Boucher, and a press officer who was taping the interview.

Mr. Powell asked whether we minded a few opening remarks — could we say no? — and then began a 15-minute presentation, in which he neatly summarized the status of U.S. foreign policy in just about every region of the world, obviously proud of his achievements.

“OK, your time’s up,” he joked when he had finished, then grinned.

In fact, Mr. Powell proved very generous with his time, taking our questions on a wide range of subjects and allowing the interview to run on for about 50 more minutes.

We were sufficiently pleased with the results, and we decided to publish two articles, one by Mr. Kralev and one by Mr. Coombs, both of which appeared on the front page of Wednesday’s paper. We also decided, on very short notice, to devote a full page inside the paper to excerpts from the transcript.

The result seems to have pleased everyone. The department, we were told, was delighted with the amount of ink we devoted to the interview, and we were very glad to see the interview quoted by all major wire services Wednesday, and by newspapers, including the New York Times, on Thursday and Friday.

David W. Jones in the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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