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Powell Says He Backed War

Becoming the latest administration official to dispute the most recent inside account of Bush administration foreign policy, Secretary of State Colin Powell is denying reports that he opposed the war in Iraq and was kept in the dark about war planning.

"When the president decided that we had to go down the road of military action, it was a road I knew was there all along," Powell said. "And I was committed as anyone else to see the end of this regime. And so, my support was willing and it was complete, no matter how others might try to impose their policy wishes on my body."

Powell's comments were part of an administration counter-offensive against the account by Bob Woodward in a new book, "Plan of Attack," which claims the administration was sharply divided in the march toward war. [CBS News and Simon & Schuster, the publisher of Woodward's book, are both owned by Viacom.]

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice has also denied part of Woodward's account, which was featured on the CBS News program 60 Minutes on Sunday.

The White House response to Woodward echoed its reaction last month to claims by former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, and in January to a book featuring comments by former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill. Both books were published by Simon & Schuster and featured on 60 Minutes.

Woodward's book claims that Mr. Bush made up his mind to attack Iraq in January 2003, two months before the war began.

Woodward also wrote that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, about the war plan on Jan. 11, 2003. That was two days before Mr. Bush told Powell, Woodward wrote.

Powell dismissed Woodward's suggestion that Bush already had made up his mind by Jan. 11 last year to go to war, and said he knew Bandar was being briefed.

Asserting that the final decision did not come until March, Powell said he was "intimately familiar with the plan and I was aware that Prince Bandar was being briefed on the plan."

"I knew as much as anybody," Powell said. Powell said Mr. Bush and all his national security advisers had agreed in August 2002 to ask the U.N. Security Council to seek a peaceful resolution and to go to war if the effort failed.

Asked about Vice President Dick Cheney — Woodward wrote that the two were barely on speaking terms — Powell described the relationship as excellent.

"When the vice president and I are alone, it's Colin and Dick," he said.

Woodward's book, for which the president and more than 70 other administration officials were sources, describes the scene in the oval office when the president did inform Powell that it was war, reports CBS News White House correspondent Bill Plante.

According to Woodward, Powell asked Mr. Bush, "Are you aware of the consequences? You know, you're going to be owning this place."

Powell doesn't dispute the account. "I made sure the president understood, and he did understand, that it was going to be a difficult mission in the aftermath of the war. "

Rice has also disputed the assertion that Mr. Bush decided in early January 2003 to invade Iraq, three months before official accounts say the decision was made.

The statement is "simply not, not right," Rice said.

Mr. Bush told reporters at a prime-time news conference on March 6, 2003 that a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing action was days away. Ten days later, having failed to win approval, the resolution was withdrawn, and the assault began March 20.

Rice did not deny the private conversation between her and Mr. Bush just after New Year's Day in which Woodward said the decision was made, but she said the writer had misinterpreted what was said.

In the January meeting, Rice said on CBS News' Face the Nation, she and Mr. Bush were at the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas, considering the Iraq situation. In such sessions, she said, Mr. Bush "kind of thinks out loud."

"He said, 'No, I think we probably are going to have to go to war. We're going to have to go to war.' And it was not a decision to go to war," Rice said. "That decision he made in March, when he finally decided to do that."

She said Woodward also misread another comment attributed to her, that Rumsfeld knew of the "go" decision and Powell did not, perhaps Mr. Bush should tell Powell.

Rice said she meant that Mr. Bush should ask Powell "his sense of how the diplomacy was going."

Woodward's book also claimed that Saudi Arabia made a secret deal with Mr. Bush to lower oil prices in the run-up to the election, CBS News Correspondent John Roberts reports. The White House and the Saudi government denied any deal, but Democrats seized on the allegation.

The book further alleges that when the military needed $700 million to get ready for war in Iraq, the president quickly signed off, taking the money from a fund Congress earmarked for operations in Afghanistan, without consulting Capitol Hill.

The New York Times reports the Pentagon claims that, in fact, it waited until Congress had authorized military action against Iraq to spend most of the money. However, the Pentagon says it did spend $178 million on war preparations in July 2002, using money from a post-Sept. 11 bill to fund the war on terrorism.