WASHINGTON—Secretary of State Colin Powell is on a hot seat over his inability to win United Nations support for an attack on Iraq, but Monday he defended his diplomatic efforts and shrugged off criticism that he does not trot the globe enough.
"I travel when I believe travel is appropriate," Powell said. "I assure you that I do not shrink back from traveling."
Powell goes abroad less often than some of his predecessors, and a few critics suggest that lack of face-to-face contact overseas has hindered building a U.S.-led coalition to topple Saddam Hussein.
Powell was having none of it, calling such criticism "this legend" that is making the rounds: "The first variation of it was, `He doesn't travel,'" Powell said. "Then the next variation was, `He hates to travel.' The third variation was, `He will never travel, and he doesn't want to travel.'"
Responding with annoyance to a question at a mid-morning news conference, Powell cited the phone calls that he had made to his foreign counterparts earlier in the day. He also noted that he had engineered a major victory in winning unanimous approval of a U.N. Security Council resolution against Iraq in November, even if efforts at a second resolution have now disintegrated in a major setback for Washington.
"You can always look and say you should have done this, should have done that," Powell said, "but the fact of the matter is, we came up with a good resolution, and we got a solid vote for it, 15 to zero."
Some observers say Powell cannot travel the world and still hold ground in internecine battles with Bush administration hawks who say the United States is strong enough to act unilaterally on a variety of issues.
"The secretary of state feels that if he's not in Washington fighting these battles, his position will suffer," said Lee Feinstein, a senior fellow at the centrist Council on Foreign Relations and a former aide to Madeleine Albright, a peripatetic Clinton-era secretary of state.
"The issue goes way beyond how many trips this secretary does or doesn't take," Feinstein added, saying that the broader issue is how much diplomatic muscle the Bush administration wants to use in building international coalitions for its policies.
Powell has traveled abroad twice this year, once to Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 25-26 and then on a whirlwind trip Feb. 21-25 to Japan, China and South Korea.
Last year Powell made 16 trips overseas, visiting 41 countries, some of them brief or one-night stops in places such as Bogota, Colombia, and Mexico City.
Powell, an inveterate user of the telephone, said his frequent visits to the United Nations in recent months have yielded numerous meetings.
"In the last six weeks, I have had four personal, one-on-one meetings, direct meetings, with the French foreign minister, with the British foreign minister, with the Russian foreign minister, five such meetings with the Chinese foreign minister," Powell said.
When a Turkish delegation arrived in Washington last month and U.S. officials courted them to allow U.S. forces to attack Iraq from Turkish soil, "they came to my home until midnight as we worked on the economic package," Powell said.
"So I believe that I have used my time properly," he added.
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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