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Powell optimistic U.S. can gain support for action against Iraq

WASHINGTON—On a day when global divisions over what to do about Iraq were laid bare, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Friday that he hadn't lost hope that the international community could forge a united front on Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

"Serious debates are taking place. There are disagreements. I haven't lost my optimism that it's possible to pull the international community together at the end of the show," Powell said in an interview with Knight Ridder.

The secretary of state, speaking by telephone from his limousine as he left Manhattan and returned to Washington to confer with President Bush, made clear, however, that the United States won't pursue diplomacy endlessly in the face of Iraqi intransigence. At some point a decision must be made on whether force is necessary.

"I don't think that point is too far off in the distance," he said.

Powell said the president hadn't decided what steps to take next in the face of "what continues to be Iraqi lack of compliance and adequate cooperation."

Powell spoke at the end of a day when he was almost literally forced to tear up his script in the face of passionate appeals from France, backed by Russia, Germany and China, to avert war and continue weapons inspections that the Bush administration thinks are a charade.

Speaking extemporaneously in the Security Council, Powell argued that the Iraqis were playing tricks on the world.

But he said later that the private afternoon talks among Security Council members were much less impassioned than the morning public session and focused in detail on what was needed for inspections to work.

Powell said he argued that expanded inspections along lines that the French proposed wouldn't work without complete Iraqi cooperation.

"There was no heat in that discussion," he said.

Powell said he reminded his colleagues that both the Security Council and NATO demanded last fall that Iraq disarm. The U.N. resolution prescribed "serious consequences" if Iraq failed to comply.

"We worried that we might end up in this position," he said.

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099):

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