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Powell Intends to Keep His Job

The secretary of State dismisses as 'gossip' reports that he plans to quit if Bush is reelected.

August 05, 2003|Vicki Kemper | Times Staff Writer

WACO, Texas — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on Monday dismissed as "nonsense" reports that he had informed the White House that he would not continue in his job if President Bush were elected next year to a second term.

In an unusually vigorous response to an article published Monday in the Washington Post, Powell and his deputy, Richard L. Armitage, insisted that a conversation the newspaper said Armitage had with national security advisor Condoleezza Rice had never occurred.

"I don't know what they are talking about," Powell said of the article. "I serve at the pleasure of the president. The president and I have not discussed anything other than my continuing to do my job for him.

"This is just one of those stories that emerge in Washington that reflects nothing more than gossip, and the gossip leads to a rash of speculation about who might fill a vacancy that does not exist," he said in an interview with Radio Sawa, a U.S. government-supported station broadcast in Arab nations.

Earlier in the day, White House officials also denied the report.

Speaking to reporters in Crawford, Texas, near where Bush is vacationing at his ranch, White House spokesman Scott McClellan praised Powell and Armitage and dismissed the Post article, which had the two resigning on Jan. 21, 2005, the day after Inauguration Day, as nothing more than "speculation and gossip."

"I think you have to love August, when there's a news void to fill and there's a lot of the rumor mill going around Washington, D.C.," McClellan said.

Back in the capital, however, McClellan's lighthearted remarks -- he repeatedly thanked reporters for presuming that Bush would be reelected -- failed to dampen the media furor first spawned by the Post article and then fanned by subsequent coverage on cable television news shows.

State Department officials used language similar to Powell's to discredit the report, calling it "just baseless speculation, gossip and rumor."

But when Powell, in his interview with Radio Sawa, was asked to respond to the Post article, the nation's top diplomat spoke directly and bluntly.

"The story has no substance," Powell said.

Referring to the report that Armitage had told Rice that neither he nor the secretary would serve in a second Bush term, Powell said: "The so-called conversation ... did not take place."

Speculation about the plans of Bush administration officials is rife in Washington, and not only because congressional and presidential vacation schedules have left the media with little fodder for news.

It is common for administration officials either to resign or to state their intentions to do so shortly before a first-term president officially begins his campaign for reelection. Former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, for example, left his post last month.

But the plans of the secretary of State obviously have far larger ramifications, not only on the secretary's career but also potentially on U.S. relations with other nations.

State Department personnel say they would not be surprised if Powell were to leave at the end of Bush's first term. He is known to dislike the heavy travel schedule, although he has taken far fewer trips abroad than did his immediate predecessors, Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher.

But Powell and State Department and White House officials all used the same political jargon Monday in referring to Powell's future, noting that he and all other administration officials "serve at the pleasure of the president."

McClellan went even further, saying: "The president thinks [Powell is] doing an outstanding job and ... looks forward to Secretary Powell continuing to work with him in our foreign policy realm."

Despite the high-level denials, talk about a possible end to Powell's term is likely to overshadow his meetings with Bush today and Wednesday.

McClellan said Powell and Armitage would travel to Bush's ranch today for previously scheduled talks about a range of foreign policy issues. The men are expected to dine with Bush tonight, hold meetings Wednesday morning and have lunch with the president before returning to Washington.

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