- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2004

President Bush yesterday called on Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry to prove his claim he has met face to face with foreign leaders who support his quest for the presidency.

“If you’re going to make an accusation in the course of a presidential campaign you ought to back it up with facts,” Mr. Bush told reporters yesterday while meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende.

Meanwhile, a survey by The Washington Times yesterday of embassies from key countries that opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq — including France, Russia, Canada and Mexico — turned up no meetings since the beginning of 2003 between Mr. Kerry and visiting presidents, prime ministers or foreign ministers. And the chancellor of Germany, another high-profile opponent of the Iraq war, has previously denied he was the basis for Mr. Kerry’s claim.

One European ambassador, who asked not to be identified, said most diplomats knew they could not contact Mr. Kerry even if they had wanted to schedule a meeting between him and a foreign visitor.

“Senator Kerry was very, very hard to get hold of. Most of the ambassadors knew it was impossible to get a meeting with any of the presidential candidates,” he said. “Sometimes we’d try the staff director or campaign manager, but we couldn’t even get them.”

Mr. Kerry said on March 8 that he has met face to face with foreign leaders who told him they want him to beat Mr. Bush in November’s election in order to force a change in U.S. foreign policy. The Massachusetts senator has repeated the claim in subsequent days, but has refused to name the leaders or provide any evidence to back up his assertion.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday foreign leaders the president has spoken to have not backed up Mr. Kerry’s claim.

“Those are not comments we’ve heard from leaders the president has met with,” Mr. McClellan said. “We have not heard the assertions the senator has made.”

Last week, The Times reported that a review of Mr. Kerry’s public schedules turned up no opportunities for face-to-face meetings between Mr. Kerry and any foreign heads of state.

Mr. Kerry continues to stand by his statement but also refuses to name the leaders, saying it would betray private conversations.

Repeated attempts to reach his campaign press office were not successful yesterday evening. But Mr. Kerry told the Associated Press he is “not making anything up at all.”

“I stand by my statement,” he said. “The point is not the leaders. What’s important is that this administration’s foreign policy is not making us as safe as we can be in the world.”

And Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and presidential candidate who is now a Kerry supporter, told reporters yesterday he agrees with Mr. Kerry’s decision not to release the names.

“I think given the proclivity of this administration to threaten those at home and abroad who are candid, that is a silly proposal on the part of the administration,” Mr. Dean said in a conference call arranged by the Kerry campaign.

Mr. Kerry was quoted last week by a Boston Globe reporter, the pool reporter at a fund-raiser in Florida, as saying that he had met with “foreign leaders” who told him that “you’ve got to win this. You’ve got to beat this guy.” The reporter for the Globe now says Mr. Kerry actually said “more leaders,” not “foreign leaders,” though the senator continues to use the words “foreign leaders.”

Mr. Kerry’s campaign said the new quote changes the entire nature of the questions over the statement.

“He was misquoted,” Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter told the Los Angeles Times. “Had he not been misquoted, this wouldn’t be a story.”

Mr. McClellan, though, said the Globe reporter’s new version doesn’t change the context of the remark, which was in answer to a question about world opinion.

“Senator Kerry is the one who said it. It is part of a pattern. It’s not the first time he has made assertions and failed to back it up,” Mr. McClellan said.

For his part, Mr. Kerry never challenged the quote and has said several times in the week since that he stands by his statement that foreign leaders have told him they want Mr. Bush to lose the election.

Asked about contacts with Mr. Kerry, a Russian Embassy official said Russian President Vladimir Putin and Igor Ivanov, foreign minister at the time, were in Washington in September, but neither met with Mr. Kerry.

“There was no attempt to see Senator Kerry,” the official said.

Mexican President Vicente Fox did not visit Washington last year. Jean Chretien, Canada’s prime minister until he stepped down earlier this year, also paid no visits to Washington during that period.

A Canadian Embassy official added that there weren’t any meetings between Mr. Kerry and the Canadian foreign minister or visiting delegations from the Canadian Parliament, though Canadian politicians pay frequent visits to Washington.

While French officials frequently traveled to the United Nations in New York, none came here, a French Embassy diplomat said.

“You know the French have not been very popular in Washington,” the diplomat added.

A spokesman for German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has already denied the German leader was one of the officials Mr. Kerry talked about, and officials at the embassies of Belgium and New Zealand said yesterday they had no record of any contact between Mr. Kerry and leaders of those nations.

The review by The Times of Mr. Kerry’s public schedules showed New Zealand’s foreign minister, Philip Goff, was the only international leader who was in Washington during the last year for an official visit at the same time Mr. Kerry was in Washington. The minister was meeting with State Department officials, while Mr. Kerry was receiving the endorsement of the International Association of Fire Fighters that day.

The last time U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan met with Mr. Kerry was on May 15, 2000.

Joseph Curl and James G. Lakely in Washington and Betsy Pisik in New York contributed to this report.

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