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Powell Insists He Supported Iraq War Plan, Despite Claims in New Book - 2004-04-20

Secretary of State Colin Powell insisted Monday he fully supports President Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq despite a just-released new book that says he cautioned in advance that the United States would face major difficulties after ousting Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Powell doesn't deny warning the president about the possible down-sides of invading Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein. But he is rejecting the notion that he opposed the eventual use of force in Iraq, or is now at odds with Vice President Dick Cheney and others in the administration over Iraq policy.

The secretary's comments in two interviews Monday were his first public comments about the description of his pre-war role in a new book by Washington Post writer Bob Woodward, who won fame for his role in reporting the Watergate scandal in the 1970s.

In the nearly 500-page book, Mr. Woodward says among other things that Mr. Powell warned that the United States would be left responsible for a shattered Iraqi society and economy in the aftermath of the war, and that he clashed repeatedly with the vice president and others in the administration who were preoccupied with reports of links between Saddam Hussein and terrorists.

Mr. Powell told the Associated Press he was as committed as anyone else in the administration to seeing an end to the Saddam Hussein regime, and rejected Mr. Woodward's suggestion that Mr. Bush had already made up his mind about going to war in January of last year - more than two months before hostilities began.

In a radio appearance with conservative talk show host Sean Hannity, Mr. Powell said the decision to use force came only after it was clear diplomacy could not get Saddam Hussein to comply with years of U.N. resolutions, and that he supported the decision then, and does now:

"I'm glad to see Saddam Hussein gone. I'm glad that that regime is gone. I'm glad that we did it," he said. "I'm glad that we have a president willing to lead us there. I had a responsibility to say out to the president and my colleagues on the National Security Council some of the upsides and some of the downsides. And if I hadn't done that, I wouldn't have been doing my job."

Mr. Powell rejected the suggestion in the Woodward book that he and Mr. Cheney are now estranged from each other and rarely talk. He said he and the vice president are good friends of nearly 20 years standing and that they had three long conversations to prepare Mr. Cheney for his current Asia trip.

The secretary said he cooperated with the Washington Post writer in the preparation of the book, as did other administration officials and that there was "nothing nefarious" about it.

The New York Times reported Monday that Mr. Powell's decisions to lay out his misgivings about U.S. Iraq policy had "jolted" the Bush White House, and laid bare long-simmering tensions in the Bush cabinet.