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US Needs New Direction in Iraq, Kerry Says - 2004-05-01

Democratic presidential contender John Kerry said Friday that it is time for the United States to take a new direction in Iraq including greater involvement by the United Nations and NATO. At the same time, President Bush defended his Iraq policy as the best way to bring democracy to the Middle East as a whole.

In a campaign speech in Missouri, Senator Kerry said mistakes have been made in Iraq but that it was not the time to cast blame. Instead, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said it was time for a new approach that involves far greater international involvement in stabilizing Iraq.

"This is a moment of truth in Iraq, not just for this administration, the country, the Iraqi people, but for the world. This may be our last chance to get it right," he said.

Specifically, Senator Kerry wants the United Nations to take a leading role in Iraq's transition to democracy as a way of sharing the burden with the international community and ending what he called the stigma of American occupation.

He also suggested that NATO could get involved as an on-the-ground security force.

"We need to put pride aside to build a stable Iraq. We must reclaim our country's standing in the world by doing what has kept America safe and made it more secure before, leading in a way that brings others to us so that we are respected and not just feared around the globe. This will not be easy, especially now," he said.

Senator Kerry spoke at Westminster College in Fulton Missouri. On Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney spoke at the same college and called into question Senator Kerry's judgment and record on national security issues.

At the White House, President Bush noted that Saturday is the first anniversary of his speech aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln when he announced major combat operations in Iraq were over under a banner that read, "Mission Accomplished".

Speaking to reporters at the White House with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, the president said that coalition forces were making progress in Iraq but that there was still "difficult work" ahead.

"Whether it be in Fallujah or elsewhere, we will deal with them, those few who are stopping the hopes of many," the president promised. "There is a political strategy, and the [Canadian] Prime Minister and I will talk about that over lunch, Mr. Brahimi's [UN] mission, of putting together an entity to which we will transfer sovereignty. No, there is a strategy that will help us achieve the objective, which is a free and peaceful country in the heart of the Middle East that is desperate for freedom and democracy and peace."

Public opinion polls suggest Iraq will be a major issue in the November presidential election. Some recent polls have indicated domestic support for the war has slipped in recent weeks amid growing turmoil in Iraq and an upsurge in U.S. casualties there.