Yesterday, in an effort to assuage European concerns, the administration told diplomats from those countries that Powell misspoke in releasing information that had not yet been verified, sources said. During a conversation about Iran with reporters accompanying him on a trip to Chile on Wednesday, Powell said he had "seen some information that would suggest that they have been actively working on delivery systems. I'm not talking about uranium or fissile material or the warhead, I'm talking about what one does with a warhead."
Powell's spokesman said yesterday that the secretary stood by those remarks. "The secretary did not misspeak," said State Department spokesman J. Adam Ereli, who added that Powell's deputy, Richard L. Armitage, "saw the same information."
Ereli did not elaborate on the nature of Powell's comments at his daily briefing. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said only that "Powell was talking about intelligence that we have seen, that's what he was referring to."
Meanwhile, senior State Department officials traveling with Powell in Santiago, Chile, said yesterday that President Bush will appeal to Asian leaders this weekend to intercede with North Korea to return to deadlocked talks on its nuclear weapons program.
Bush will press allied leaders of China, Japan, South Korea and Russia -- partners with the United States for more than a year in negotiations to disarm Pyongyang -- on the sidelines of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Chile. The Bush administration believes North Korea may be more willing to reconsider rejoining the six-party talks now that the U.S. presidential election is over, the officials said.
With limited alternatives, U.S. officials hope the president's personal intervention will impress allies to try once again to prod North Korea. "Bush's meetings with leaders are going to be quite significant in stating his own commitment to the six-party process," said a senior State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive diplomacy.
The diplomatic effort has been in trouble since Kim Jong Il's government boycotted a planned session of the six-party talks in September. The Bush administration believes North Korea was waiting to see the fate of Democratic candidate John F. Kerry, who had proposed the kind of direct talks the Clinton administration tried in 2000.
Japan and South Korea have offered economic and energy incentives as part of the package to win North Korea's compliance. But North Korea had been holding out for additional incentives, including the prospect of one-on-one talks with the United States, as conditions to resume negotiations.
Staff writers Robin Wright in Santiago, Chile, and Glenn Kessler in Washington contributed to this report.