- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 20, 2004

KUWAIT CITY — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has been thousands of miles away from home all of last week, but questions about domestic politics have followed him to South Asia and the Middle East.

Aides traveling with Mr. Powell denied that his recent comments about the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. John Kerry, mark a break with a long tradition of the nation’s top diplomat avoiding political comments.

The aides said Mr. Powell is simply responding to questions he has done nothing to provoke.

“People ask him questions and he answers them, that’s all,” a senior State Department official said Thursday.

The official said it is not unusual for a secretary of state to comment on a presidential campaign, but he acknowledged that has never happened this early in the election season.

“Every secretary I’ve known has shot a zinger occasionally,” he said. “But I can’t remember direct attacks on a secretary of state.” The official said he was referring to Mr. Kerry’s claim that the White House has taken away the keys to Mr. Powell’s plane and does not allow him to do his job because he is not as tough as some of his Cabinet colleagues.

“I think simply Powell, who I know, like and admire, has never been permitted to be fully secretary of state in a way that I envision the secretary of state,” the Massachusetts senator told the New York Times on March 7.

In a March 1 interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Powell rejected similar assertions as totally baseless and insisted that everything he does is personally approved by President Bush.

“People are fond of pointing out that I may not be on the president’s agenda,” he said. “I am on the president’s agenda. I know what he wants. I see him many times a week — in groups and alone.”

The series of comments Mr. Powell made on domestic issues began last month, when he gave a terse response to Rep. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat, who questioned Mr. Bush’s service in the National Guard in the 1970s during a hearing on Capitol Hill on Feb. 11.

“Let’s not go there,” Mr. Powell said. “You don’t know what you are talking about.”

Then came Mr. Kerry’s remarks earlier this month about endorsements he had received from foreign leaders.

“I’ve met with foreign leaders who can’t go out and say this publicly, but boy, they look at you and say, ‘You’ve got to win this. You’ve got to beat this guy. We need a new policy,’” he reportedly said at a fund-raiser in Florida.

Mr. Powell was the first in the administration to respond.

“I don’t know what foreign leaders Senator Kerry is talking about,” he said on the Fox News channel on Sunday. “It’s an easy charge, an easy assertion to make. But if he feels that it is that important an assertion to make, he ought to list some names. And if he can’t list names, then perhaps he should find something else to talk about.”

Asked what he thought of Mr. Kerry, the secretary said: “I’ve known Senator Kerry for many, many years, and we did some work together on Capitol Hill, and I have regard for him, but it’s now a political campaign between he and President Bush.”

In New Delhi on Tuesday, Mr. Powell said that outsourcing U.S. jobs to India and other developing countries is a “reality” of the 21st century. He was later asked by Indian youths to comment on Mr. Kerry’s condemnation of the practice.

Mr. Powell first said that he does not get involved in presidential politics, but then went on to deride what Republicans have called Mr. Kerry’s “flip-flops” on various issues.

“I’m not sure what his views are from day to day” on outsourcing, the secretary said.

Madeleine K. Albright, Mr. Powell’s predecessor in the Clinton administration, tried to stay away from the race between Mr. Bush and Vice President Al Gore, but she criticized Mr. Bush’s declared intention to withdraw U.S. troops from the troubled Balkans as part of his disdain for nation-building at the time.

James A. Baker III, secretary of state in the administration of Mr. Bush’s father, left his post in early 1992 to run George H.W. Bush’s campaign, so his related comments were made in a different capacity.

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