Sunday, May 18, 2003

Presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry blamed the Bush administration yesterday for not doing enough to prevent last week’s terrorist bombings in Saudi Arabia, saying it was not enough to warn that an attack was imminent and ask for protection.

“It’s insufficient for this administration to say, ‘We notified them, but they didn’t do anything.’ It’s the obligation of this administration to make sure that they are doing something, and you don’t do it by passing on a communication and then sitting there. You have to be engaged,” Mr. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

The Bush administration “got overly focused on Iraq” and is in “complete disarray” as opposed to the al Qaeda network, which Mr. Kerry said “never went out of business.”

“I think that the triumphalism of this administration, the president’s comments and others’ about al Qaeda on the run has really exceeded reality,” Mr. Kerry said. “What’s happened is we broke the beehive, but we didn’t kill the bees, and we certainly haven’t killed the queen bee.”

The State Department issued a travel warning May 1 asking U.S. citizens to defer nonessential travel to Saudi Arabia. “Information indicates that terrorist groups may be in the final phases of planning attacks against U.S. interests in Saudi Arabia,” the warning said.

Additionally, five requests were sent to the Saudi government asking that uniformed armed guards be placed at Western targets to prevent a terrorist strike.

Adel Al-Jubeir, Saudi foreign policy adviser, acknowledged on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that officials received a letter from the American ambassador three days before the attack, saying the compound was one of the targets. He said they “took action on it.”

“The compound already had more security than anything else. And so, yes, we put it in place,” he said.

Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, chalked up Mr. Kerry’s criticism to presidential politics.

“What now we have are Democratic candidates saying every bomb attack or every attack by any terrorist can be laid at the doorstep of the president and the commander in chief,” Mr. Roberts said.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican, said Saudi Arabia’s decision to decline action preventing the attacks “is just beyond me.”

“I mean, we sent high-level Bush administration officials — not low-level, high-level officials — to explain to them the information that we had received, gave them the projected targets that we thought they were going to hit, and still they failed to take any action,” Mr. Chambliss said.

Mr. Kerry said the war against terrorism should be a struggle for common ideas and relationship building.

“I believe this is a war of ideas, and we need to be more engaged in that war with a more robust and aggressive foreign policy,” Mr. Kerry said.

“Our own foreign policy, our own State Department, our own administration has not been sufficiently focused and energized in terms of building those relationships,” Mr. Kerry said.

Work has also not been completed in Afghanistan, the home of the Taliban, which was routed as a base for al Qaeda after the September 11 attacks, he said.

“Almost any observer will tell you that we’re not rebuilding Afghanistan,” Mr. Kerry said.

Mr. Kerry was asked specifically how he, as president, would handle the situation in light of five warnings of the terrorist attacks to Saudi government officials and their refusal to allow U.S. law enforcement officials to investigate the attacks.

Mr. Kerry again said he would turn to policy.

“Well, if John Kerry were president, I would long ago have engaged in an effort to move America toward a different energy policy so that we aren’t as reliant as we are on 46 percent of the oil reserves of the world that come from Saudi Arabia,” Mr. Kerry said.

“This administration has no energy policy,” said Mr. Kerry, who opposes the administration’s energy plan, which has been stalled by Democrats and some Northeastern Republicans in Congress since Mr. Bush took office.

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