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Bush, Kerry Trade Foreign Policy Charges - 2004-03-08

President Bush and his expected Democratic Party opponent in November, Senator John Kerry, traded charges on foreign policy and national security issues Monday.

President Bush continues to raise questions about Senator Kerry's record on national security issues. Speaking to supporters at a Republican fundraiser in Dallas, the president noted that back in the mid-1990s Senator Kerry proposed cutting the budget for intelligence agencies.

Mr. Bush described the proposed cuts as "deeply irresponsible." "Once again, Senator Kerry is trying to have it both ways. He is for good intelligence. Yet, he was willing to [severely cut] the intelligence services. And that is no way to lead a nation in a time of war," he said.

A statement from the Kerry campaign said the Massachusetts Democrat favored the cuts back in 1995 because the money would have largely gone to defense contractors, not the intelligence agencies. The statement also said Senator Kerry has supported a 50 percent increase in intelligence spending since then.

For his part, Senator Kerry told supporters in Florida Monday that some foreign leaders have told him privately that they want him to defeat President Bush in the November election. Senator Kerry did not identify the leaders in question.

A spokesman for the Bush re-election campaign, Terry Holt, issued a statement that said Senator Kerry's "foreign friends" may prefer him as president, but the election "is in the hands of the American people."

At another campaign stop in Florida, Senator Kerry continued his criticism of the president's foreign policy and his handling of the war on terrorism. "You need to know who they are, where they are, what they are planning to do and be able to go get them before they get us. And the way you do that is with intelligence, human intelligence, the best intelligence and the best cooperation we've ever had with other countries in the world, which is the one thing this administration does worse than any other administration in recent history in this country," he said.

Senator Kerry also said Monday that he expects Republicans will try to "tear down his character" during the election campaign.

Some Republicans are also predicting that the campaign will turn nasty. Arizona Senator John McCain, who lost to President Bush in the 2000 Republican presidential primaries, says he expects "the nastiest campaign we've ever seen on both sides" in the 2004 race for the White House.