Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry has leveled strong criticism against President Bush over North Korea and homeland security. President Bush defended his policies at campaign stops during a bus tour through the midwestern state of Michigan.
Senator Kerry is accusing the Bush administration of letting what he described as a "nuclear nightmare" develop in North Korea by refusing to deal with Pyongyang when Mr. Bush first came to office in 2001.
In an interview with the New York Times late Sunday, Senator Kerry blamed the president for shifting the country's focus to Iraq, while ignoring far larger nuclear threats in North Korea and Russia, home to unevenly secured stockpiles of demobilized nuclear warheads.
Meanwhile, at a rally to support an assault weapons ban that expires Monday, the Democratic presidential candidate took the opportunity to blast President Bush for not doing enough to keep military-style assault weapons out of the hands of terrorists.
"Al Qaida, having put in its own manuals that we discovered in Afghanistan, an encouragement for its recruits: go to America to buy assault weapons. Find assault weapons in America," said Mr. Kerry.
He argued that the expiration of the assault weapons ban will make it possible for terrorists, among other criminals, to once again get the weapons they want.
"And so, tomorrow, for the first time in ten years, when a killer walks into a gun shop, when a terrorist goes to a gun show somewhere in America, when they want to purchase an AK-47 or some other military-style assault weapon, they're going to hear one word, 'sure,'" he added.
President Bush was campaigning in Michigan, where his featured topic was health care. Regarding North Korea, though, the president defended his administration's policy of seeking to broker an end to the nuclear crisis through multilateral talks, which he said increases the pressure on North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il.
"By the way, there [are] now five voices reminding him [Kim] that he needs to disarm, including China, as opposed to one voice reminding him," said Mr. Bush.
These voices include the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia. Representatives from these five nations have been holding discussions with North Korean officials about resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis.
Meanwhile, on the issue of homeland security, President Bush once again stressed that his administration's goal is to attack the terrorists overseas before they attack in the United States.
"Our strategy is clear. We're defending the homeland, transforming our military, and strengthening our intelligence services," he added. "We're staying on the offensive. We are striking the terrorists abroad so we do not have to face them here at home."
Poll numbers show President Bush leads Senator Kerry when voters are asked who would keep the United States safer. But a recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that 51 percent of registered voters disapprove of how Bush is handling domestic issues, such as health care, education and the environment.