By Chief foreign affairs correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/19/2004 7:55:24 PM ET 2004-04-19T23:55:24

Secretary of State Colin Powell was in the Oval Office Monday, after being portrayed as out of the loop and opposed to President George W. Bush’s decision to go to war with Iraq.

On Monday, Powell was asked about Bob Woodward’s description of him as the lone holdout among top policymakers in an administration obsessed with toppling then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein — a diplomat so isolated, that the White House told Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar about the Iraq war plans before notifying the Secretary of State.

Powell denied it: “The question that has arisen seems to be that Prince Bandar received a briefing on the plan, with some suggestion that I hadn’t.  Of course I had.  I was intimately familiar with the plan and I was aware that Prince Bandar was being briefed on the plan.”

U.S. military deaths in IraqBut in an interview Monday with NBC News, Woodward described Powell as unaware when Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld first briefed Bandar at the White House on January 11, 2003. At the time, said Woodward: “Rumsfeld said to Prince Bandar, ‘You can take this to the bank,’ pointing at the map, the war plan, ‘This is going to happen.’”

Woodward insists Rumsfeld and Cheney told the Saudi Ambassador the United States was going to war, before the secretary of state was informed.

Powell now also denies that the president told him he had firmly decided to go to war when they met in the Oval Office two days later.

“He did not convey a decision to me that day either, he sent me back to do my diplomatic work,” Powell said.

But Woodward says the president told him he called Powell in for a brief 12-minute meeting and told him to put his ‘war uniform’ on.

“When you tell the Secretary of State whose been resisting and laying out the consequences and the problems of war that its time to put your war uniform on, there’s no ambiguity about that,” said Woodward.

American intellegence

In fact, Woodward and senior U.S. officials tell NBC News that the president had decided to go to war, even though the president and Rumsfeld, to preserve surprise and placate crucial allies like British Prime Minister Tony Blair, kept denying it.

On January 23, 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said: “The answer is no, absolutely not. The president has not made a decision on the final use of, whether it will finally be necessary to use force.”

Even though the president and Rumsfeld spent hours with Woodward, some Bush officials tried to portray Powell as disloyal for being a secret source for the book. On Monday Powell said, “We all talked with Woodward.  It was part of our instructions from the White House.”

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