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Rumsfeld avoids questions on Iraq role

One question is when Rumsfeld knew that Rice's role in the restoration of Iraq superseded his.
One question is when Rumsfeld knew that Rice's role in the restoration of Iraq superseded his.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld canceled a news conference Thursday in part to avoid questions about whether the White House recently reduced his role in Iraq's reconstruction, Pentagon and NATO officials said.

The White House said Monday it is creating an Iraq Stabilization Group to be headed by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. The group will be responsible for handling the day-to-day administration of Iraq, a task previously handled by the Pentagon.

Rumsfeld was scheduled to brief reporters at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Colorado. He was questioned at Wednesday's NATO press briefing about his relationship with Rice, a memo she circulated establishing the new Iraq Stabilization Group, and whether he was "in the loop."

The defense secretary has "said everything he has to say about it," Pentagon officials said.

The change in the oversight of reorganization efforts inside Iraq stemmed from numerous discussions on the topic among Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Rumsfeld and President Bush, a White House official said.

A report in Thursday's New York Times quoted several administration officials who said Rice discussed the issue with Rumsfeld and other members of the National Security Council last week.

Earlier this week, Rumsfeld said he did not remember discussing the topic with Rice. He said he was informed of the creation of the group by way of a memo sent to an undersecretary of defense.

Referring to the flap about the memorandum, a NATO official said they were told Rumsfeld canceled the news conference because he didn't want to answer any more questions on the topic.

But Rumsfeld's chief spokesman said the news conference was canceled so he would have time to meet from representatives of several countries at meetings that were not on his original schedule.

"I would say that is the reason" Rumsfeld canceled, Rumsfeld spokesman Larry Di Rita said.

CNN correspondent Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report


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