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updated 5/5/2004 7:11:10 PM ET 2004-05-05T23:11:10

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday he was calling a halt to talking about his role in the Bush administration and his future.

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“I don’t have time to fool with this anymore,” Powell told reporters at the State Department, a touch of irritation in his voice.

And, he said, “I don’t want to answer any questions about it.”

Powell said he had not read an article in the coming issue of Gentleman’s Quarterly magazine in which a close friend, Harlan Ullman, described him as feeling uneasy about being the pragmatist in an administration dominated by ideologues.

“There’s an ideological core to Bush, and I think it’s hard for Powell to penetrate that,” Ullman wrote.

The article is only the latest in a series of reports that depict the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as swarmed over in his advice to President Bush by more conservative senior advisers.

“It’s too bad we have to spend time with these kinds of issues,” Powell said.

In apparent reference to reports his health had declined — Powell had a prostate operation last December — he declared: “I am well and pursuing a very vigorous schedule.”

Speaking to reporters who travel regularly with him, including a trip last week to Germany and Denmark, Powell said: “You follow me around, You see me. You know what I am doing. I am doing my job.”

Doing 'damage control'
But Powell's chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, suggests in the GQ article that the secretary is fatigued and supports what has been rumored over the past year, that the secretary of state is unlikely to stay in the post if President Bush is re-elected in November.

"He has spent as much time doing damage control and, shall we say, apologizing around the world for some less-than-graceful actions as he has anything else," Wilkerson told the magazine.

“He’s tired, mentally and physically," Wilkerson said. "And if the president were to ask him to stay on — if the president is re-elected and the president were to ask him to stay on, he might for a transitional period, but I don’t think he’d want to do another four years.”

Powell’s position is that he serves at the pleasure of the president.

At Wednesday's press briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher denied that the secretary of state was poised to step down at the end of the administration's first term.

Reached by telephone in Bermuda on Tuesday, Ullman told The Associated Press that he was in frequent contact with Powell and that Powell had authorized him to cooperate with the magazine. Powell was once a student of Ullman’s at the National War College.

The GQ article portrays Powell as increasingly marginalized within the Bush Cabinet.

“This is, in many ways, the most ideological administration Powell’s ever had to work for,” Ullman says in the wide-ranging interview. “Not only is it very ideological, but they have a vision. And I think Powell is inherently uncomfortable with grand visions like that. ... There’s an ideological core to Bush, and I think it’s hard for Powell to penetrate that.”

Wilkerson is also quoted expressing resentment about the influence of neo-conservatives within the administration, while blasting one of the bedrock policies of the Bush administration, its hard-line stance against the Cuban government.

"Dumbest policy on the face of the earth," Wilkerson reportedly told the magazine. "It's crazy."

Some State Department officials were surprised by Wilkerson's outspoken remarks, and suggested the chief of staff may have thought he was speaking on background and not for attribution.

‘Serving the nation’
Asked about the article Tuesday night, Powell did not deal with the assertions that he was unhappy with his working conditions. “I don’t feel like a casualty,” Powell said on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” referring to the article’s title, “Casualty of War.”

“I feel like I’m hard at work, serving the nation, serving the president. We’ve got a lot of good things going on around the world that sometimes people don’t notice because of the problems in Iraq, as well as elsewhere.”

Ullman, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also confirmed a quote in the magazine on Powell’s thoughts about his Feb. 5, 2003, appearance before the U.N. Security Council. That presentation was designed to convince the world that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

“The trade-off was ‘Go to the U.N., go to Congress, slow this thing down; it’s not going to be regime change, it’s going to be weapons of mass destruction.’ And for that, Powell stayed a loyal member of the administration,” Ullman said.

Two months after Powell’s address, the U.S.-led coalition went to war against Iraq. No weapons of mass destruction have turned up.

As for the military action against Iraq, Powell has said it was authorized by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, approved in November 2002.

NBC's Andrea Mitchell and Tammy Kupperman at the State Department and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


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