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Monday, 18 November, 2002, 14:52 GMT
Powell's route to Iraq resolution
US Secretary of State Colin Powell and US President George W Bush
Mr Powell worked hard to win the president's attention
BBC News Online's Paul Reynolds

A fascinating account of how US Secretary of State Colin Powell outmanoeuvred hawks in the administration who wanted an attack on Iraq without giving the UN a chance has been revealed in a book by veteran journalist Bob Woodward.

The book, Bush at War, is being serialised in The Washington Post.

US Vice-President Dick Cheney
Vice-President Dick Cheney first clashed with Mr Powell over Israel
The leading hawk was Vice-President Dick Cheney. At one meeting, Woodward reports: "Cheney and Powell went at each other in a blistering argument. It was Powell's internationalism against Cheney's unilateralism."

From the start of the Bush presidency, according to Woodward, Mr Powell felt he had been "put into an icebox - to be used only when needed".

'Beyond control'

The president's close political adviser Karl Rove was said to feel that Mr Powell was "beyond political control and operating out of a sense of entitlement".

Mr Powell's first run-in with Mr Cheney, and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, was over Israel.

US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice
Support from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was key to Mr Powell

The Cheney-Rumsfeld axis insisted on a much more pro-Israel line. Mr Powell's deputy Richard Armitage told him: "They're eating cheese on you," which Woodward describes as "an old military expression for gnawing on someone and enjoying it".

Mr Powell was not going to be slapped down again. He managed to get the president's ear with private meetings attended also by Mr Bush's National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Getting her on his side was vital.

His aim was to persuade the president that the United States should not attack Iraq without giving the UN a chance of re-establishing its authority and getting Saddam Hussein to disarm.

Getting to the UN

The timetable evolved as follows:

5 August: Two-hour dinner with Mr Bush and Ms Rice. Speaking from notes, Mr Powell outlines potential damage to US interests of unilateral action. "It's nice to say we can do it unilaterally," he tells the president "except you can't." He proposes a solution - go to the UN first. "That was terrific," says Ms Rice the next day.

Bob Woodward
Woodward made his name with the Watergate expose and has covered the White House ever since
14 August: The principals meet - Mr Cheney, Mr Powell, Mr Rumsfeld, Ms Rice and CIA director George Tenet. Mr Powell says a coalition is needed for any war. The Brits are with us, he says, but their support is fragile, according to Woodward's account. The meeting agrees that the president should talk to the UN about Iraq when he speaks to the General Assembly on 12 September. But no-one agrees what he should say.

16 August: Mr Bush joins talks by video from his Texas ranch. He said he "wanted to give the UN a chance", in Woodward's words. Mr Powell, satisfied, goes on holiday.

27 August: Mr Powell, on vacation in Long Island, reads the New York Times which quotes Mr Cheney as opposing the return of inspectors and calling for an attack on Iraq. Next day, the BBC releases an earlier interview with Mr Powell who says that inspectors should go back. Confusion reigns.

6 September: Mr Powell is still opposed by Mr Cheney. "Cheney was beyond hell-bent for action against Hussein. It was as if nothing else mattered," says Woodward.

US President George W Bush addresses the United Nations
Mr Bush had to ad-lib at the UN to include the vital pledge to seek a resolution

11 September: President Bush finally agrees with Mr Powell - he will call for a new UN resolution. This is added to the text in draft number 24 of the address to the United Nations.

12 September: To Mr Powell's horror, the vital phrase is left out of the version which Mr Bush is reading to the General Assembly from a prompter screen. But the president ad-libs and the commitment is given. Woodward does not explain why the key phrase was missing from the formal text.

That Bush speech changed US policy and led to the Security Council resolution under which inspectors have returned to Iraq.

War is still possible. Without Colin Powell, it might have been about to start.

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See also:

15 Nov 02 | Americas
25 Sep 02 | Middle East
12 Sep 02 | Middle East
10 Sep 02 | Americas
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