GWEN IFILL: In two years as Sec. of State, Colin Powell has gained a reputation as the Bush Administration's most reluctant warrior. Administration officials led by Vice Pres. Dick Cheney have long talked tough about Iraq.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Saddam has perfected the game of cheat-and-retreat and is very skilled in the art of denial and deception. A return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his compliance with the U.N. resolutions.
GWEN IFILL: Powell, by contrast, was all about diplomacy. Critics said he was out of the loop. When the Iraq issue began to heat up last summer, it was Powell, by all accounts, who advised Pres. Bush to seek U.N. Support before initiating any military action in Iraq. In the book "Bush at War," author Bob Woodward describes a two-hour White House dinner meeting last august where Powell convinced the president to make his case at the U.N.; that speech, delivered in September, won Bush widespread praise at home and abroad.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: Iraq's regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately, decisively to hold Iraq to account. We will work with the U.N. Security Council for the necessary resolutions. But the purposes of the United States should not be doubted. The Security Council resolutions will be enforced, the just demands of peace and security will be met, or action will be unavoidable. And a regime that has lost its legitimacy will also lose its power.
GWEN IFILL: The U.N. Security Council subsequently passed a Powell-brokered resolution calling for new weapons inspections in Iraq. But the president and his aides, including Powell, have since grown impatient with the inspections process. Deputy Sec. of State Richard Armitage:
RICHARD ARMITAGE: This is not a problem that we can turn away from. We must be prepared to face it. We must not let the sensible reluctance to fight drive us into wishful thinking.
GWEN IFILL: Deputy Defense Sec. Paul Wolfowitz:
PAUL WOLFOWITZ: There is every reason to believe that things are being moved constantly and hidden. The whole purpose of Iraq's constructing mobile units for producing biological weapons was presumably to be able to hide them.
GWEN IFILL: Now Powell has joined the chorus too, surprising those who had labeled him the administration's resident dove.
COLIN POWELL: Hang any label you want on me. I'm a great believer in diplomacy and a great believer in finding a peaceful solution, but I also recognize that when somebody will not accept a peaceful solution by the U.N. -- their part of creating a peaceful solution, one must never rule out the use of force to implement the will of the international community, but more importantly, to protect our people and to protect the world.
GWEN IFILL: His language grew even tougher as traditional American allies Germany and France declared their opposition to acting against Iraq.
COLIN POWELL: The United States seeks Iraq's peaceful disarmament. But we will not shrink from war if that is the only way to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.
GWEN IFILL: Powell remains a popular figure. In a new poll published today, Americans say they trust Powell more than they do Pres. Bush when it comes to U.S. policy toward Iraq, 63 percent-24 percent. And as he prepares for Wednesday's pivotal U.N. speech, Powell is courting and being courted by a steady stream of foreign ministers. Powell has said he will not present a "smoking gun" during the speech, but will make the case that Iraq is concealing weapons of mass destruction.