Secretary of State Colin Powell says the Bush administration has been stepping up contacts with friends and allies on how to respond to what it calls Iraq's threat of weapons of mass destruction. But he discounts widely reported suggestions that top administration officials are split over what course of action to take. Mr. Powell made the comments while en route to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa where he is expected to face more questions from world leaders on U.S. policy toward Iraq.
What Secretary Powell says is taking place within the Bush administration right now regarding Iraq is not disagreement, but debate over how best to stop the threat posed by what administration officials charge is President Saddam Hussein's attempt to rebuild his banned weapons programs. All of this he says, is aimed at presenting the president with different insights that he says exist within the Bush cabinet on the Iraq issue.
But suggestions that deep splits have emerged among top administration officials over how to deal with Iraq gained momentum after Vice President Dick Cheney warned last week that Iraq could acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon, and that a return of United Nations weapons inspectors could just give the world false comfort, as he put it, since they failed to detect all of Iraq's banned weapons before.
Those comments were in sharp contrast to the approach Secretary Powell outlined in an interview a few days later in which he said the world should first push for a return of U.N. inspection teams.
But speaking to reporters as he flew to South Africa Tuesday, he called reports of differences on the matter "overhyped," and said President Bush plans to lay out a clear policy toward Iraq in the near future, possibly during his address to the U.N. General Assembly in New York later this month.
President Bush decided not to attend the World Summit on Sustainable Development, disappointing leaders here from Europe and developing countries. Secretary of State Powell will deliver an address to the conference before it closes Wednesday.
But U.S. officials express concern that all the attention focused on his views on Iraq could end up drawing attention away the summit's closing and the message the Bush administration wants to deliver about reducing poverty and protecting the environment.