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Officials Deny U.S. Is Going It Alone

Diplomacy: Bush team rejects charges of isolationism. Powell and Rumsfeld say no policy rift separates them.

July 31, 2001|ROBIN WRIGHT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CANBERRA, Australia — The Bush administration has gone on the offensive to counter claims that it is acting unilaterally around the world by rejecting groundbreaking treaties or defying the advice, appeals and positions of key allies.

As if reading from a common script, the top three U.S. foreign policy officials have started talking tough over the last few days about how involved the administration is around the world. They have also begun to use a common language--at least in public--about key issues over which they earlier appeared to have some differences.

On the last leg of a weeklong Asia-Pacific tour, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said in Australia on Monday that the United States is "very, very much involved" abroad and that the Bush administration intends to remain committed to alliances and international agreements.

"We will do everything that's necessary to make sure that our alliances remain strong and vibrant," he said on Australian television. "We're going to be very, very much involved on the world stage and playing the role that is expected of the United States.

"If we're becoming isolationist, then I've had one heck of a wasted week," he added, referring to his stops in China, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and Australia.

Powell also pointed to the deployment of nearly a quarter of a million U.S. troops in the Asia-Pacific region, Europe and the Persian Gulf, and the extensive travel and consultation abroad by top officials during the six months since President Bush took office.

"This is not the action of an isolationist nation," he said.

In almost identical language, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said here Sunday that the Bush administration wants to interact with the world on issues of common concern.

"Alliances are very important to the United States. We recognize as a country the importance of those linkages," Rumsfeld told a media round table in Canberra, where he and Powell were attending events marking the 50th anniversary of a U.S.-Australian security pact.

In a similar vein, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice insisted in Washington over the weekend that the Bush administration's foreign policy centers on engagement.

"You'll not find a more internationalist administration than this administration," Rice said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."

She denied that the administration's decision to reject or back away from a spate of international treaties--most notably, accords on global warming, a nuclear test ban, the International Criminal Court, a biological weapons ban and antiballistic missiles--signaled a desire to go it alone. The moves instead reflected caution because of flaws in each of the pacts, she said.

"The president was not elected to sign treaties that are not in America's interest, that are not going to deal with the problems with which they purport to deal," Rice said. "If internationalism somehow becomes defined as signing on to bad treaties just to say that you've signed a treaty, that's not going to be sustainable with the American people."

The public comments by all three officials follow growing criticism in the media, by foreign analysts and by governments.

The Bush team was stung by charges of isolationism from Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) at the beginning of the president's recent trip to Europe.

"I think we are isolating ourselves, and in so isolating ourselves, I think we're minimizing ourselves," Daschle told USA Today. "I don't think we are taken as seriously today as we were a few years ago."

Powell and Rumsfeld also appear to be making a public effort to emphasize their common ground. Despite their long-standing relationship, the two key Cabinet officials reportedly have differed on a range of policy decisions, from Iraq to North Korea to China.

At a joint news conference Monday with their Australian counterparts, Rumsfeld denied a split over U.S. policy on China.

Rumsfeld usually refers to China in the context of its threat potential, while Powell discusses the world's most populous country in terms of trade potential and its political transformation, which he called "remarkable" during his stop Saturday in Beijing.

After talks with top leadership, he used the term "friend" more than once to describe China.

But Rumsfeld said the two are in sync. "Colin Powell and I talk every day and meet several times a week, and I don't know that there are differences between us," he told reporters.

Pressed on whether he agreed with Powell's formulation that the U.S. was willing to meet North Korean officials at any time and any place for talks, Rumsfeld replied, "I stand fully upon Secretary Powell's positions."

Powell turned, looked around and touched Rumsfeld's arm. "Why, thank you!" he replied.

The secretary of State went out on a limb in the early days of the Bush administration, saying it would continue negotiating with the Communist regime of Kim Jong Il on a pact to end North Korea's development and sales of long-range missiles. Reportedly under Rumsfeld's influence, the administration has since added the issue of conventional forces, a highly sensitive issue for the nervous Pyongyang government.

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