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Rice disputes book on Iraq war

Says writer misread key conversations

WASHINGTON -- National security adviser Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that President Bush's decision to invade Iraq was not made in January 2003, as a new book asserts, but came in March, after all efforts to avoid a war had been exhausted.

The statement in "Plan of Attack," by Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward, is "simply not, not right," Rice said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

In an interview broadcast last night on CBS's "60 Minutes," Woodward said that "the decision [to invade] was conveyed to Condi Rice in early January. . . . [Bush] was frustrated with the weapons inspections. He had promised the United Nations and the world and the country that either the UN would disarm Saddam [Hussein] or he, George Bush, would do it, and do it alone if necessary."

But Rice said the final determination that war would occur came more than two months after their private conversation at Bush's Texas ranch. In that conversation, Rice told CBS, she and Bush were discussing Bush's frustrations with Hussein, who Bush said "was starting to fool the world again, as he had over the past 12 years."

"He said, 'Now, I think we probably are going to have to go to war, we're going to have to go to war,' " Rice said.

But that "was not a decision to go to war," she continued. "The decision to go to war is in March. The president is saying in that [January] conversation, 'I think the chances are that this is not going to work out any other way. We're going to have to go to war.' "

Rice's comments are in line with the administration's official account of the prewar deliberations and with Bush's statement at a March 6 news conference that he had not yet made a decision about military action. The invasion began two weeks later.

Rice also disputed that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who had been arguing for a diplomatic resolution, had been kept out of the loop on the war plans, as Woodward's book contends.

Woodward wrote that Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, learned of the war plans before Powell did. According to Woodward, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, and Air Force General Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, showed Bandar a secret war map, technically off-limits to foreign officials. That meeting came two days before Bush briefed Powell, Woodward wrote.

"I just can't let this impression stand," Rice said. "It's just not the proper impression that somehow Prince Bandar was in the know in the way that Secretary Powell was not. It's just not right. Secretary Powell . . . knew what the war plan was."

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported today that Woodward's book has created tension in the White House because of Powell's apparent decision to explain his misgivings for the war. The Times said a spokesman for Powell would not comment on the book, and the paper noted Powell has not said he spoke with Woodward, but the secretary of state's positions are so clearly delineated it seems likely he cooperated with Woodward.

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