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White House tries to calm Rumsfeld’s ruffled feathers

Washington, Oct. 8 (Reuters): The White House today sought to paper over any differences with defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who complained he was not told of a post-war Iraq reorganisational shake-up.

Rumsfeld’s annoyance at the White House emerged during an interview he gave to London’s Financial Times newspaper, a rare display of public pique within President George W. Bush’s famously insular inner circle.

And it came at a time when the White House, confronting falling poll numbers, is launching an aggressive public relations push aimed at bolstering support among Americans for the Iraq mission.

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice, head of the White House’s National Security Council (NSA), was to deliver a speech in Chicago defending the rationale behind the war and confronting critics.

Under pressure to bring stability to Iraq, Bush announced on Monday he had ordered a major reorganisation of US efforts to bring control to Iraq, headed by Rice.

White House officials insisted Rumsfeld’s authority had not been diminished and the Pentagon remained the lead agency in Iraq.

But the move was perceived in Washington as giving the state department a greater say in post-war reconstruction in Iraq. State department officials have felt sidelined from what would normally be an effort they would lead.

“What it means is that, at least in the policy formulation stage, other agencies are going to have a bigger voice than they had up to this point,” said Ivo Daalder, a defence analyst at the Brookings Institution think tank. “And in that sense, by definition you’re seeing a diminution of Rumsfeld’s ability to control that process.”

White House spokesman Scott McClellan singled out a portion of Rumsfeld’s remarks to the Financial Times, that the defence secretary said the NSC’s job is to coordinate policy, to suggest there was no difference between the White House and Rumsfeld.

“Go back to what he said in his remarks. As the secretary said, this was no surprise because that’s ‘what the responsibility of the NSC is and always has been.’ That’s what he said in the interview,” McClellan said. “I looked at what he said, and it’s right in line with what we said,” he added.

McClellan had said on Monday that Rumsfeld had been consulted and approved of the shake-up in advance, but he said today: “Maybe I should not have characterised it that way.”

Rumsfeld sounded annoyed the White House had decided to draw attention to a memo establishing the reorganisation. “The way I read the memorandum is that it is basically what the responsibility of the NSC is and always has been, which is what’s been going on,” he said.

Rumsfeld, speaking to reporters yesterday in Colorado Springs, Colorado, ahead of a Nato defence ministers meeting, said the Pentagon had received a one-page memorandum last Friday that the National Security Council would “do inter-agency coordination” of efforts in Iraq. “I wouldn’t know how to comment on it,” he responded when asked about the perception that his oversight of the military and reconstruction work in that troubled country was inadequate.

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