Fri, Oct 10, 2003 - Page 6 News List

White House plays down divisions

RIFTAdministration officials deny Donald Rumsfeld's authority has been diminished in a postwar reorganization, despite the defense secretary expressing his frustration

REUTERS , WASHINGTON

The White House Wednesday sought to paper over any differences with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who complained he was not told of a postwar Iraq reorganizational shake-up.

Rumsfeld's annoyance at the White House emerged during an interview he gave to London's Financial Times newspaper, a rare display of public pique within US President George W. Bush's famously disciplined inner circle.

And it came at a time when the White House, confronting falling poll numbers, is launching an aggressive public relations push aimed at bolstering declining support among Americans for the Iraq mission.

Bush used a US$14 million fund-raiser Wednesday night to reassure Republican campaign contributors that "America did the right thing" in Iraq and that the hunt for weapons of mass destruction was well under way.

"There's a lot more to investigate," he told 2,000 Republican donors. "Yet it is now undeniable -- undeniable -- that Saddam Hussein was in clear violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441," he said, citing evidence the top CIA weapons hunter presented this month.

"Iraq is free. America is more secure," Bush said.

Under pressure to bring stability to Iraq, Bush announced Monday a major reorganization of US efforts to bring control to Iraq, headed by Rice, and including representatives from the State Department and other key agencies.

In the Financial Times interview, Rumsfeld sounded annoyed that Rice, who heads the National Security Council, had decided to draw attention to a memo establishing the reorganization by giving a "background" briefing to The New York Times.

"I don't quite know what the purpose of the backgrounding was ... she gave a background, she said what she said, and the way I read the memorandum is that it is basically what the responsibility of the NSC is and always has been, which is what's been going on," Rumsfeld said.

He said he did not know Rice was writing the memo, but admitted he writes memos himself that colleagues do not know about until they receive them. He said the memo should not be classified and should be released.

But answering questions from reporters in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he was attending a defense ministers meeting, Rumsfeld said he was "not at all" upset about the memo, which he said apparently had been discussed at a lower level than him and need not have been brought to his level.

"It's not a problem or an issue," Rumsfeld said, expressing surprise that reporters were asking him about the issue.

White House officials said Bush retained complete confidence in Rumsfeld, that his authority had not been diminished and the Pentagon remained the lead agency in Iraq.

But the move was perceived in Washington as giving the State Department a greater say in postwar reconstruction in Iraq. State Department officials have felt sidelined from what would normally be an effort they would lead.

"What it means is that, at least in the policy formulation stage, other agencies are going to have a bigger voice than they had up to this point," said Ivo Daalder, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution think tank.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan singled out a portion of Rumsfeld's remarks to the Financial Times, that the defense secretary said the NSC's job is to coordinate policy, to suggest there was no difference between the White House and Rumsfeld.

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