Colin Powell dismisses idea he wouldn't serve in second term

Tuesday, August 5, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Colin Powell dismissed as gossip and nonsense a published report that he had sent word to the White House he would not serve in a second Bush administration.

"I don't know what they are talking about," Powell said of the story in The Washington Post. "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."

According to the newspaper, Powell's deputy, Richard L. Armitage, informed national security adviser Condoleezza Rice that neither he nor Powell would serve in a second term.

"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," Powell said in an interview with Radio Sawa, which broadcasts to the Arab world with U.S. financial support.

"The story has no substance," Powell said. "And the so-called conversation that took place between my deputy, Mr. Armitage, and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice did not take place."

The White House, meanwhile, expressed President Bush's support for Powell.

"The president thinks he is doing an outstanding job and appreciates the job that he is doing," press secretary Scott McClellan said. "The president looks forward to Secretary Powell continuing to work with him in our foreign policy realm."

"Secretary Powell and Deputy Secretary Armitage are outstanding members of the president's team, and they are highly valued members of the president's team," McClellan said in Texas where Bush has begun a monthlong vacation at his ranch.

At the State Department, deputy spokesman Philip T. Reeker said Powell "serves at the pleasure of the president and will continue to do so."

Powell and Armitage were to fly to Texas today for dinner with Bush and further talks with him on Wednesday on foreign-policy issues.

Bush probably will meet with other Cabinet officers, as well, while he is in Texas, Reeker said. The meetings with Powell and Armitage were planned weeks ago, the spokesman said.

The report on Powell resonated for hours Monday on cable television against a backdrop of known differences between him and more conservative senior administration officials.

Powell, at 66, is known to have interests beyond diplomacy, among them improving the ways schools deal with minority children.

White House and State Department officials refused to say whether Powell would stay on if Bush won a second term.

Such a statement would have been unprecedented. Presidents enjoy much leeway in choosing their top aides. In any event, no secretary of state has served more than one term since George P. Shultz replaced Alexander M. Haig Jr. during President Reagan's first term and stayed through his second.

The last secretary of state to serve two full terms was Dean Rusk, under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson in the 1960s.

The talks at dinner at Bush's ranch tonight and at a meeting Wednesday will deal with a range of policy priorities, McClellan said without identifying any of them.

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