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Dharam Shourie in New York
A string of internal policy differences have set off speculation that US Secretary of State Colin Powell may not last through President George Bush's term.
Tensions with the White House and Pentagon hawks that Powell has long sought to underplay are no longer possible to disguise, the New York Times reported.
In public, the paper says, Powell, the four-star-general-turned-diplomat, has done what he always does: soldier on, shaping his commander's policies as best he can.
In private, Secretary Powell, an amateur automotive mechanic, complains that old friends spend too much time sympathetically taking his temperature - "dip-sticking me," as he puts it, the Times said.
With the possible exception of mid-70's when Henry A Kissinger was both secretary of state and national security adviser, internal tensions and threatened resignations over foreign policy have been more the rule than the exception in the modern White House, the report said.
But veteran diplomats say the current disagreements are the worst since the days when Secretary Powell's mentor, the then defence secretary Caspar W Weinberger, feuded with the then secretary of state George P Shultz in the Reagan administration.
As one of the world's most admired celebrities for more than a decade, with approval ratings that rival Bush's, Powell has special status - and singular political value - in a Republican administration supposedly eager to demonstrate its commitment to compassionate conservatism, it said.
But almost from the beginning, he has found himself at odds with many of his more hard-line colleagues and the president himself on the handling of foreign policy, whether over Bush's rejection of the Kyoto treaty on global warming or the president's lumping of Iran, Iraq and North Korea into a global "axis of evil," the report said.
In each case, Powell embraced the president's position as his own, doing his best to justify the administration's view to often-critical allies around the world.
Even when he has initially embraced a position at variance with the administration's ultimate policy - regarding the international family planning issue, for example - Secretary Powell's sense of discipline, loyalty and discretion means that he never shows his true feelings publicly, according to aides and close friends.
Powell's approach to almost all issues - foreign or domestic - is pragmatic and non-ideological, the Times says.
He is internationalist, multilateralist and moderate. He has supported abortion rights and affirmative action and is a Republican, many supporters say, in no small measure because Republican officials mentored and promoted him for years.
Secretary Powell has won victories on points of principle that he felt deeply, persuading the administration that the Geneva Conventions governed the handling of captured Taliban fighters, even if they were not granted status as prisoners of war, and arguing successfully that a new arms reduction agreement with Russia should take the form of a treaty ratified by the Senate.
But more often, he has been forced to "pick up the pieces and go on," one long-time Powell associate was quoted as saying after Bush announced his new Mideast policy. "He's the one who now has to put it all together and make it work."
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