Sunday, April 18, 2004


National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice yesterday forcefully disputed an assertion that President Bush decided in early January 2003 to invade Iraq, more than two months before official accounts say the decision was made.

The statement, in a new book by Bob Woodward of The Washington Post about the run-up to war, is “simply not, not right,” Miss Rice said.

Mr. Bush told reporters in a prime-time press conference on March 6, 2003, that a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing action was days away. Ten days later, having failed to win approval, the resolution was withdrawn, and the assault began March 20.

Miss Rice did not deny the private conversation between her and Mr. Bush just after New Year’s Day, when Mr. Woodward said the decision was made, but she said the writer had misinterpreted what was said.

She said Mr. Woodward also misread another comment attributed to her, that because Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld knew of the “go” decision and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell did not, perhaps Mr. Bush should tell Mr. Powell.

In the January meeting, Miss Rice said on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” she and Mr. Bush were at the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, considering the Iraq situation. In such sessions, she said, Mr. Bush “kind of thinks out loud.”

“He said, ‘No, I think we probably are going to have to go to war. We’re going to have to go to war.’ And it was not a decision to go to war,” Miss Rice said. “That decision he made in March, when he finally decided to do that.”

She said the Powell misunderstanding, as presented in Mr. Woodward’s book “Plan of Attack,” grew from her comment to Mr. Bush that, “If you’re beginning to think that the diplomacy is not working, it’s probably time to have a conversation with the secretary of state. I’m sure he would have, in any case.”

Miss Rice said she meant that Mr. Bush should ask Mr. Powell for “his sense of how the diplomacy was going” and that Mr. Bush had thought diplomacy would not succeed.

“But I just want it to be understood: That was not a decision to go to war. The decision to go to war is in March. The president is saying in that conversation: ‘I think the chances are that this is not going to work out any other way. We’re going to have to go to war.’”

As part of the thesis that Mr. Powell was out of the administration’s decision-making loop, Mr. Woodward also wrote that the administration told Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, before Mr. Powell knew.

“I just can’t let this impression stand,” said Miss Rice, saying although the administration did consult with the Saudis to determine their reaction in the event of war, “the secretary of state was privy to all of the conversations with the president, all of the briefings for the president.”

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