Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, while acknowledging that he was a source for a newly published account about tensions between him and other Cabinet members over Iraq, sought to distance himself yesterday from some of its assertions.
He denied he was out of the decision-making loop at the White House and insisted through a spokesman that “before, during and after” the war he believed it was “the right thing to do.” He also played down the disagreements he is said to have had with Vice President Dick Cheney and other key administration officials. He denied that he and Mr. Cheney were not on speaking terms, saying their relationship was excellent.
He even echoed National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice’s claim that the book, “Plan of Attack” by Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, contains factual mistakes.
“I was as committed as anyone else to seeing an end to [Saddam Husseins] regime, the destruction of this regime that put people in mass graves,” the secretary said in an interview with the Associated Press yesterday afternoon.
It took Mr. Powell four days to admit that he had, indeed, cooperated with Mr. Woodward. But yesterday he told the AP: “We all talked to Woodward. It was part of our instructions from the White House, just as we did with his first book.”
Although many in Washington assumed the secretary had spoken with the author, based on the detailed description of his views and exchanges with President Bush, the State Department would not answer the question either way until yesterday.
Still, the responses were different on the record and in private.
Mr. Powell’s spokesman, Richard Boucher, only went as far as to say that “many people in this town had something to do with the book, including senior officials at the State Department.”
But a senior State Department official, asked later if the secretary was one of those officials, simply said: “Yes.”
Mr. Boucher said the secretary had indicated “consistently” before, during and after the war that it was “the right thing to do.”
A day after Miss Rice took issue with some of the assertions in the book, Mr. Powell joined her in disputing the writer’s claim that Mr. Bush decided to go to war on Jan. 11, 2003, and that Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, knew about the plan before Mr. Powell did.
“I knew as much as anybody,” Mr. Powell told the AP, adding that he was “intimately familiar with the plan, and I was aware that Prince Bandar was being briefed on the plan.” Both Mr. Powell and Miss Rice said the final war decision was not made until March, days before military action began.
“I just can’t let this impression stand,” Miss Rice said Sunday on CBS. “The secretary of state was privy to all of the conversations with the president, all of the briefings for the president. They were in almost daily contact about what was going on at the United Nations.”