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Powell jokes about verbal slips

The State Department blamed Powell's mistakes on his speaking style
The State Department blamed Powell's mistakes on his speaking style  

From CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Secretary of State Colin Powell joked with reporters Wednesday about a series of recent verbal slips he has made in public references to policy on China and The Middle East.

The State Department is playing down the comments by Powell, who officials say misspoke twice last week on key mainstays of U.S. international policy -- one relating to Jerusalem, the other to Taiwan.

The State Department been quick to deny that the secretary's remarks indicate any change of policy and has attributed the slips to Powell's habits of speaking without extensive notes.

Powell said to reporters after his testimony to the Senate Budget Committee that there was "no change in policy, " on China.."no suggestion of changing policy."

"I am tightening my new saddle," he said

The controversial statements came during Powell's testimony to Congress last week about President Bush's international affairs budget and hot spots for U.S. policy.

During testimony last Thursday before the House International Relations Committee Powell, while talking about arms sales to Taiwan, twice referred to Taiwan as the Republic of China.

The United States recognizes the "one-China" policy and has insisted it has only an unofficial, informal relationship with Taiwan. China has long considered Taiwan a renegade province that must be reunited with the mainland. China and Taiwan have never held a summit, only talks between lower ranking officials.

But Beijing fears the comment indicated the U.S. recognized Taiwan as a political entity independent of China. Xinhua, China's official news agency, said the government had "strong concern and dissatisfaction" about Powell's use of the term.

According to State Department Richard Boucher, the Chinese called the State Department to raise questions about Powell's comments.

"We replied very clearly that U.S. policy has not changed regarding unofficial relations with Taiwan," he said. "We don't normally use the term and I don't think we'll be using it in the future."

Another comment, made on Wednesday of last week, involved U.S. policy on Jerusalem, which both the Israelis and the Palestinians claim as their capital. The United States has long maintained that the fate of Jerusalem is a "final status" issue to be negotiated between the parties.

But, when asked by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about President Bush's plans to move the U.S. embassy out of Tel Aviv, Powell said the president was committed to moving "the embassy to the capital of Israel, which is Jerusalem."

Boucher called the comment an inadvertent mistake and said U.S. policy on Jerusalem remained unchanged.

The mistake, however, provoked strong reaction in the Arab world, and several Arab nations denounced Powell, accusing the United States of being biased in favor of Israel.

Arab-American leaders met with Powell Tuesday and said he took personal responsibility for the comment, saying Powell called it a "mischaracterization" of policy.

Boucher attributed the statements to Powell's extemporaneous speaking style.

"If we want to praise the secretary for being open and speaking English and talking without following a specific script, one would also have to accept that," Boucher said. "The language might be a little looser at times."

"So don't get too excited over one word here, one word there," he added.

Powell is known for appearing before Congress and the news media without piles of briefing notes.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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