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Powell admits 'lots of differences'

Powell arrives in Johannesburg Tuesday night.
Powell arrives in Johannesburg Tuesday night.  

From Elise Labott
CNN Washington Bureau

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged Tuesday there were "lots of differences" within the Bush administration and elsewhere on what course of action to take against Iraq.

He said President Bush was consulting "widely" with his Cabinet and U.S. allies and could explain his position as early as next week.

"I see there are lots of differences. Some are real, some are perceived, some are over-hyped," Powell told reporters aboard his plane en route to Johannesburg where he will represent the United States at a U.N. conference on sustainable development.

"There are lots of views in the administration, outside the administration, up on [Capitol] Hill, throughout the talk shows, the media and throughout the international community. The president is considering it all," he said.

Powell said Bush would be articulating the U.S. position "in the very near future," referring to a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly next week in New York.

"I think you will see that the president will pull all these threads together," Powell said.

His comments followed an interview he made Sunday with the BBC in which he appeared to contradict comments by Vice President Dick Cheney.

Powell recommended putting U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq "as a first step." In two tough speeches to veterans groups last week, Cheney dismissed that idea and warned of the "risks of inaction" against Saddam.

"The only position that really counts at the end of the day is the president's position," Powell said Tuesday.

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"We are all working hard and we are all working in harmony to make sure the president has the very best information and all the different insights that exist within his Cabinet can be brought to bear on this so that he can make the best decision."

Downplaying a rift with Cheney, Powell said the real issue is not the inspections themselves, but rather Iraq complying with U.N. resolutions that call for disarmament of its weapons program.

"The resolutions call for disarmament, not inspections," Powell said, noting inspections are only "one way of getting at that question."

"Whether it is the only way or there are other ways that have to be used to get at that question of disarmament is the debate we are having within the entire international community," he said.

Noting that U.N. weapons inspectors, who left the county in 1998, did not find and destroy all of Iraq's weapons, Powell said Cheney made the point "very powerfully and vividly" that "inspections in and of itself may not give you the assurance that you need."

Still, Powell said his consultations with U.S. allies about the various diplomatic and political options with respect to Iraq have included discussions on the possible nature of a new weapons inspections regime that should be able to conduct inspections "any time, any place."

"Can we really get an inspection team in that would give confidence that we are going to get to the root of the matter, or if it is going to take something more than inspections," Powell said about the deliberations. "There are a lot of things that get discussed."

Although Powell said it is "premature" to speculate on whether the United States would seek an additional resolution at the United Nations, he said the next steps would depend not only on Bush but also on other members of the U.N. Security Council.

"Obviously all of that is in the mix," he said.

Until now, Powell has remained largely silent on the issue of Iraq, leaving the more hawkish views of Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to dominate the debate.

In recent days a close confident of Powell's within the administration told CNN that Powell is against a U.S. invasion of Iraq without the support of key allies around the world.

The Bush administration has faced a chorus of criticism of its Iraq policy from many of its allies, most of which have said they do not support a military campaign against Baghdad.

Powell said he has spent an "enormous amount of time on the phone" over the past week with his counterparts explaining the U.S. concerns about Iraq and hearing their points of view.

"When you are consulting you have to listen to everything," Powell said. "You have to listen to positive responses and negative responses."

Powell said the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York next week will provide both he and Bush "an additional opportunity" to consult with U.S. allies and lay the diplomatic groundwork for any U.S. action toward Iraq.

While in Johannesburg, Powell is expected to meet with the Danish and Russia prime ministers and the Romanian, Kazak, South Africa and Turkish presidents. Turkey is seen as a critical partner in a campaign against Iraq.




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