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Stealth Candidate Appears On Screen Powell Favors Abortion Rights, Gun Control And Affirmative Action

Gen. Colin Powell favors abortion rights, affirmative action and gun control. He opposes organized prayer in schools and objects to what he calls the Clinton administration’s lack of consistency in foreign policy.

He still does not know whether he wants to run for president and, if he does, whether he should do so as a Republican, an independent or even a Democrat.

Those are among the disclosures Powell makes to Barbara Walters in an interview scheduled to be broadcast Friday night on the ABC News program “20/20.” Highlights from the interview were made public by ABC News on Monday.

Trying to piece together Powell’s political profile has become, in recent weeks, the Washington version of connect-the-dots, and for that purpose, the highlights from Walters’ interview provide only a few genuinely new dots.

On the abortion issue, for example, the general in the past has expressed support for the right of a woman to choose; in the interview, he describes himself as “pro-choice” and calls abortion a matter between a woman, “her doctors, her family and her conscience and her God.”

In speeches around the country, Powell has said he supports some forms of affirmative action; in the interview, he calls himself a beneficiary of affirmative action in the Army “because the Army said, ‘We’re all going to be equal, and if anybody needs a little bit more help to be equal, we’re going to give him that help.”’

Lucy Kraus, a spokeswoman for “20/20,” said there was so much “important information” in the interview that ABC News decided to disclose portions early. But the network appeared to have speeded up its schedule to pre-empt other news organizations that might have gleaned the same material from their own interviews.

Powell, who retired in 1993 as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is planning a series of interviews with various news organizations this week in anticipation of the release of his autobiography, “My American Journey,” published by Random House.

The publicity campaign planned for the book has been orchestrated with such intensity that it makes a presidential race seem almost low-key by comparison.

As with a political race, however, unforeseen events seem to keep intruding on the publicity plans; for instance, although Time had purchased the exclusive rights to the book for the issue of the magazine that appeared Monday, Newsweek got hold of the book and printed highlights last week.

On the issue of gun control, Powell told Walters that although he owns a gun and believes in the right to bear arms, he supports laws that require gun registration or a waiting period to ensure that gun owners are responsible citizens.

On prayer in school, the general said that he had “no problem” with a quiet moment at the start of the school day but that he would “be against any sort of stricture that says you will come in and you will pray.”

Powell, who writes in his autobiography that he turned down offers from President Clinton to become secretary of state, said in the interview that he was “not a fan of the manner in which foreign policy issues are hammered out in this administration.” There is, he continued, “too much tactical judging from day to day and week to week.”

In his book, the general argues that “the time may be at hand for a third party to emerge” to represent the “sensible center of the American political spectrum.”

He said that it would be easier to run for president as a Republican. At the same time, he declined to rule out challenging Clinton for the Democratic nomination, saying, “Why should I rule out anything?”