Rice promotes Bush policies on Iraq

Security adviser begins campaign as she expands role in reconstruction

October 09, 2003|By HEARST NEWSPAPERS

WASHINGTON - National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice opened a White House public relations campaign yesterday promoting postwar policies in Iraq after taking over some of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's responsibilities for Iraq reconstruction.

Rice spoke in Chicago as Rumsfeld broke ranks with the usually harmonious administration to publicly grumble that he had not been consulted by Rice about her plan to have the White House National Security Council assume wider responsibility in Iraq for reconstruction, economic development, political steps toward democracy and public relations.

Rice told the Council on Foreign Relations in Chicago that President Bush had removed Saddam Hussein because of the "possibility" that the dictator "might use" weapons of mass destruction or hand off the devices to terrorists "to mount a future attack beyond the scale" of Sept. 11.

"That terrible prospect could not be put aside," Rice said. "You don't leave that threat in the middle of the Middle East."

Rice's address was the opening salvo of a Bush administration communications offensive that will include an address by Bush in New Hampshire today and a speech by Vice President Dick Cheney in Washington tomorrow.

The public appearances represent the leading edge of a White House effort to overcome skepticism about the war among many Americans and to persuade the Republican-led Congress to approve $87 billion in emergency spending to underwrite military operations and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next 12 months.

Bush also plans to devote his national Saturday radio addresses to progress reports on Iraq and to dispatch Cabinet officers to showcase such progress as the reopening of Iraq's public schools, the distribution of new currency and high-profile reconstruction projects.

A six-month search for weapons of mass destruction has come up empty handed.

Rice's remarks in Chicago came after Rumsfeld told the London-based Financial Times and three other European news organizations in an interview transcript released yesterday that he had not been briefed in advance about a classified memorandum prepared by Rice that gave the 48-year-old Russia scholar and former provost of Stanford University wider responsibilities for Iraq.

Rumsfeld and the Pentagon have exercised tight control over policy, security and reconstruction in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in March.

Rumsfeld's pique emerged in the interview transcript.

Asked whether he had not been briefed on the plan before Rice put it into effect, Rumsfeld replied curtly, "That's true."

Rumsfeld played down the Rice-orchestrated changes as bureaucratic steps to improve routine interagency policy coordination and said he wished that Rice had not focused public attention on it.

"The only thing unusual about it is the attention," Rumsfeld said. "I kind of wish they'd just release the memorandum."

Asked whether the reorganization had been necessary, Rumsfeld replied: "I don't know. You'd have to ask them."

Rumsfeld's comments prompted Bush's spokesman to backtrack on his statements from Monday that Rumsfeld had been consulted about the changes in advance.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Rice's memo had been circulated in advance to the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies, but only at the undersecretary level - two rungs below Rumsfeld. McClellan emphasized in response to a question that Bush "absolutely" had confidence in Rumsfeld, 71, whose former posts include four terms in Congress, White House chief of staff, NATO ambassador and defense secretary as well as corporate chief executive.

McClellan portrayed the council's wider duties as part of the Bush administration's effort to bolster the ability of L. Paul Bremer III, the U.S. administrator of Iraq, to deliver tangible results to Iraqi civilians.

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