Kerry criticizes president’s ‘sweetheart’ ties with Saudis

LAKE WORTH, Fla. (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry yesterday vowed to end a “sweetheart relationship” that allows money to flow through Arab countries to terrorist groups and criticized President Bush over a report that he had struck a deal with Saudi officials to lower gasoline prices before the election.

“If … it is true that gas supplies and prices in America are tied to the American election, tied to a secret White House deal, that is outrageous and unacceptable to the American people,” Mr. Kerry said during a campaign stop in Florida. “If this sounds wrong to you, that’s because it is fundamentally wrong.”

Mr. Kerry appealed for support from Jewish voters in Florida, which has the fifth-highest percentage of Jewish population in the United States.

Mr. Kerry and Florida Democratic Sens. Bob Graham and Bill Nelson were joined by Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who is Jewish and once was a Kerry rival for the nomination. The Bush campaign, meanwhile, distributed to journalists several Lieberman statements from the primary race that were critical of Mr. Kerry.

“I have a 100 percent record … of supporting the special relationship and friendship that we have with Israel,” Mr. Kerry said. “I can guarantee you that as president, I understand not just how we do that but also how we end this sweetheart relationship with a bunch of Arab countries that still allows money to move to Hamas, Hezbollah and the Al Aqsa Brigade.”

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a violent offshoot of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s mainstream Fatah party, has been blamed for suicide bombings and other attacks in Israel. It was formed after the onset of hostilities in 2000.

While Mr. Kerry pointed the finger of blame at a list of Arab countries he didn’t name, spokesman David Wade said he was referring primarily to Saudi Arabia and accused Mr. Bush of walking away from Mideast peace efforts.

“He abandoned the Mideast peace process for the first 14 months of his administration,” Mr. Wade said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan yesterday said Prince Bandar had visited the White House on April 1 and pledged to protect the world economy from oil shocks. Prince Bandar said Saudi Arabia would take actions to ensure that crude oil prices remain between $22 and $28 a barrel, ideally an average of $25, Mr. McClellan said.

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