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Bush, Kerry Offer Different Approaches to Foreign Policy - 2004-10-08

This year's U.S. presidential campaign has revealed some sharp foreign policy differences between President George Bush and Democratic Party challenger Senator John Kerry.

Iraq is the biggest foreign policy issue in this election, and both men come at the war from distinctly different positions.

President Bush says Iraq is the central front in the fight against terrorism. Senator Kerry says it is a distraction.

"Iraq was not even close to the center of the war on terror before the president invaded it." Senator Kerry says the president rushed into the conflict, instead of going to war only as a last resort.

"Those words mean something to me, as somebody who has been in combat - last resort," said John Kerry. "You've got to be able to look in the eyes of families and say to those parents: 'I tried to do everything in my power to prevent the loss of your son and daughter.' I don't believe the United States did that. And we pushed our allies aside." Senator Kerry says he would hold an international summit to broaden the alliance and more fairly share the costs. President Bush says there is already a strong coalition, and Senator Kerry is wrong to discredit allies who are part of it.

"My opponent says we didn't have any allies in this war? What's he say to Tony Blair? What's he say to Alexander Kwasniewski of Poland? You can't expect to build alliances, when you denigrate the contributions of those who are serving side-by-side with American troops in Iraq," said President Bush. Former State Department official Allen Keiswetter, who has worked for both Republican and Democratic presidents, says Senator Kerry's multilateralism would be a change from the president's approach, but he questions how much enthusiasm for Iraq the Democratic candidate would find among world leaders. "He's a new face," said Allen Keiswetter. "He's committed officially to a more internationalist position, so I think he probably has a much better chance at this. But the fact of the matter is that you have to live with what you got, and, as many people have said, Iraq is a mess, and you have a hard time getting people not already involved in the mess to willingly wade into it."

President Bush mocks Senator Kerry's internationalist approach, saying it would give countries like France a veto over U.S. policy.

"I just think trying to be popular, kind of in the global sense, if it's not in our best interest, makes no sense," he said. "I'm interested in working with other nations, and do a lot of it. But I'm not going to make decisions that I think are wrong for America." President Bush says invading Iraq was right for America, because it has made the nation safer and furthers U.S. foreign policy. "A free Iraq will set a powerful example in a part of the world that is desperate for freedom," said George W. Bush. "A free Iraq will help secure Israel. A free Iraq will enforce the hopes and aspirations of the reformers in places like Iran." President Bush says he is working closely with European allies to convince Iran's leaders to give up their nuclear program. Senator Kerry says the president has done little to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.

Senator Kerry also says the president has been lax in dealing with North Korea's nuclear program. Mr. Kerry says his Republican Party opponent lost opportunities during the two years he refused to talk to Pyongyang.

"While they didn't talk at all, the fuel rods came out," said Senator Kerry. "The inspectors were kicked out. The television cameras were kicked out. And, today, there are four to seven nuclear weapons in the hands of North Korea. That happened on this president's watch. Now, that, I think, is one of the most serious sort of reversals, or mixed messages, that you could possibly send."

Senator Kerry says he would open bilateral talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. President Bush says that is just what Mr. Kim wants, to undermine current six-party talks, which include South Korea, China, Russia and Japan.

"So, now, there are five voices speaking to Kim Jong-il, not just one," he said. "And, so, if Kim Jong-il decides again to not honor an agreement, he's not only doing injustice to America, he'd be doing injustice to China, as well. And, I think, this will work." In Africa, President Bush says, the United States is contributing more than $200 million to help people displaced by violence in southern Sudan. He sees no reason to send American troops to the troubled Darfur region, but will continue supporting regional efforts to end what his administration says is genocide. Senator Kerry agrees, there is no current need to send U.S. troops, but he would not rule out the possibility in the future, and says Washington must do more to help African soldiers keep the peace.

"Right now, all the president is providing is humanitarian support," said John Kerry. "We need to do more than that. They've got to have the logistical capacity to go in and stop the killing, and that's going to require more than is on the table today."

Both men agree that nuclear proliferation is America's single most serious foreign policy threat. But, again, they approach the issue differently. President Bush sees it as part of the broader fight against terrorism. Senator Kerry says the United States must move faster to secure Russian nuclear material, instead of developing new nuclear weapons of its own. "We're telling other people, 'you can't have nuclear weapons,' but we're pursuing a new nuclear weapon that we might even contemplate using," he said. "Not this president. I'm going to shut that program down, and we're going to make it clear to the world, we're serious about containing nuclear proliferation." President Bush says he is working on the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom, he says, he also has raised concerns about the Russian leader consolidating political power.

"I think that there needs to be checks and balances in a democracy, and made that very clear - that by consolidating power in a central government, he's sending a signal to the Western world and the United States that - that perhaps he doesn't believe in checks and balances," said President Bush. "And I've told him that."

President Bush says he understands that not everybody agrees with his foreign policy decisions, but people know where he stands and what he believes, and that, he says is the best way to keep the peace. The Democratic candidate says it is one thing to be certain, but, one can be certain and wrong at the same time. As president, Senator Kerry says, he would work to earn back some of the international respect he says the country has lost under President Bush.