MANAGUA, Nicaragua – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, coming under renewed fire for his management of the Iraq war, said Sunday he is not considering resigning and said the president had called him personally in recent days to express his continued support.
Speaking to reporters en route to Nicaragua for a meeting of defense ministers, Rumsfeld said he was not surprised by reports in a new book that White House staff had encouraged President Bush to fire him after the 2004 election.
"It's the task of the chief of staff of the White House — and having been one, I know that — to raise all kinds of questions with the president and think through different ways of approaching things," Rumsfeld said. "So it wouldn't surprise me a bit if that subject had come up."
Asked by reporters if he had recently considered resigning, Rumsfeld said, "No."
In the new book "State of Denial," Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward writes that former White House chief of staff Andrew Card twice sought to persuade Bush to fire Rumsfeld.
Card on Friday did not dispute that he had talked about a Rumsfeld resignation with the president but said it was his job to discuss a wide range of possible replacements, including his own.
Rumsfeld on Sunday also denied any rift with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and said the ongoing debate doesn't detract from his work with other international leaders.
He said he had spoken to Bush since the book's contents were made public. Bush "called me personally," said Rumsfeld, to voice support.
Rumsfeld has previously acknowledged that he twice offered Bush his resignation, but it was not accepted.
The defense secretary and Bush have faced growing criticism for their handling of the Iraq war as violence there has escalated, U.S. casualties have mounted and public support for the conflict has declined. Fueling the debate in recent days was the release of a classified intelligence report that concluded that the Iraq war has helped fuel a new generation of extremists and increased the overall terrorist threat.
Just back from a five-day trip to the Balkan region, which included a NATO defense ministers meeting in Slovenia, Rumsfeld arrived in Nicaragua Sunday afternoon for two days of meetings with defense officials from more than 30 South and Central American countries.
The talks here — in one of the Western Hemisphere's poorest countries — are expected to focus on counter-narcotics and counterterrorism efforts, peacekeeping missions, humanitarian and disaster relief and the removal of land mines from the region.
The meeting of the region's defense ministers follows a tense period in which Venezuela's leaders lashed out at the U.S. and President Bush during a U.N. meeting in New York City. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called Bush "the devil" and slammed U.S. leaders for trying to block his country from taking a seat on the U.N. Security Council.
Rumsfeld said Sunday he did not expect to meet privately with the Venezuelan defense minister, although he will see him during the regular meeting.
U.S. officials have long considered Chavez a destabilizing force in Latin America. And they have suggested that Venezuela would make the U.N. Security Council unworkable if the nation were to win its bid against U.S.-backed Guatemala for a rotating council seat.
Also of interest to U.S. leaders is the possibility that Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, whose socialist government was a major antagonist of the United States in the 1980s, has been leading in the polls for the upcoming Nicaraguan presidential election.
Ortega led the overthrow of dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979 and fought the U.S.-backed Contra rebels as Nicaragua's president from 1985-90.