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Powell plays the comic as Letterman gets serious

Secretary of state deftly sidesteps questions about his future

Secretary of State Colin Powell keeps his cards close to his vest while talking to David Letterman.
Secretary of State Colin Powell keeps his cards close to his vest while talking to David Letterman.

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Talk show host David Letterman on Thursday tried to coax U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell into saying whether he would serve a second term if George W. Bush is re-elected as president.

Powell has told friends and associates that he planned to serve in the Cabinet no longer than one term, but speculation about his future increased in early August after The Washington Post published an article that said Powell and his top deputy, Richard Armitage, have reaffirmed their intentions to step down even if the president wins a second term.

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U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell chats with David Letterman. (September 26)
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Colin Powell
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Powell appeared Thursday on the "Late Show with David Letterman," and gave a lesson on the language of diplomacy.

Letterman's exchange with Powell followed a circular path. Following an initial attempt to get an answer that failed, the talk show host pressed the secretary of state a second time:

Letterman: "Let's assume that [Bush] wins a second term. Would you be his secretary of state? Would you like to continue or have you in fact told him you would not continue?"

Powell (smiling): "I have enjoyed my job enormously and I will serve it at the pleasure of the president How long do you want to do this?"

Letterman: "I would infer then that you will be a secretary of state if [the president] wins another term?"

Powell: "Oh, I'll be secretary of state for as long as I serve at his pleasure."

Letterman: "And you're still in his pleasure, you haven't incurred his displeasure have you?"

Powell: "Not so far today, but it's early."

An aide to Powell told CNN in August that it would not be surprising if Powell and Armitage were to leave at the end of the term. It would be surprising, the aide said, if they agreed to stay or decided to bolt before the end of Bush's first term.

"Anybody who thought Powell would have stayed around for a second term if Bush is re-elected would have to ask the question, 'What's he smoking?' " the Powell aide said.

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