Nation/World

Decision Time: Powell Huddles

Retired Gen. Colin Powell has assembled the political equivalent of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, an array of advisers who are helping him hone his message for Republican appeal as he decides in the next few weeks whether to run for president.

Several of Powell’s friends and advisers said that, to their delight, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs is sounding more like he will declare himself as a Republican presidential candidate.

But close aides cautioned that Powell, who finished his book tour Friday, is still studying the situation and considering everything from becoming a vice-presidential nominee to a university president.

“I have spent every waking minute with him for the last five weeks, except for some private sessions, and quite frankly … I haven’t sensed he is necessarily any closer to a decision,” William Smullen, Powell’s longtime aide, said in an interview. “Don’t read anything into what others are telling you.”

Powell, 58, said last week that with the well-received tour ending, he now plans to enter into a period of “intense” consultation with his family, friends and other advisers, who make up a politically potent group.

They range from former President Bush to Kenneth Duberstein, former Reagan chief of staff, to Vernon Jordan, President Clinton’s close friend. The list of advisers also includes Powell’s wife, Alma, and the rest of his family.

The diversity of opinion among the advisers reflects what some call an underlying struggle for Powell’s political soul. Conservatives want Powell to move to the right, but moderate members of the party have told Powell to stay on his middle course. Powell has begun fine-tuning his rhetoric to be more in harmony with the libertarian - if not conservative - side of the party.



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