Friday, March 12, 2004

Sen. John Kerry refuses to provide any information to support his assertion earlier this week that he has met with foreign leaders who beseeched him to prevail over President Bush in November’s election.

The Massachusetts Democrat has made no official foreign trips since the start of last year, according to Senate records and his own published schedules. And an extensive review of Mr. Kerry’s travel schedule domestically revealed only one opportunity for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee to meet with foreign leaders here.

On Monday, Mr. Kerry told reporters in Florida that he’d met with foreign leaders who privately endorsed him.

“I’ve met with foreign leaders who can’t go out and say this publicly,” he said. “But, boy, they look at you and say: ‘You’ve got to win this. You’ve got to beat this guy. We need a new policy.’ Things like that.”

Aides and supporters of Mr. Kerry have said providing names of the leaders or their countries would injure those nations’ ongoing relations with the current Bush administration.

“In terms of who he’s talked to, we’re not going to discuss that,” spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said yesterday. “I know it would be helpful, but we’re not going into that. His counsels are kept private.”

Mr. Kerry has made other claims during the campaign and then refused to back them up, including statements that Mr. Bush delayed the deal with Libya to give up its weapons of mass destruction program for political reasons.

Republicans have begun calling Mr. Kerry the “international man of mystery,” and said his statements go even beyond those of former Vice President Al Gore, who was besieged by stories that he lied or exaggerated throughout the 2000 presidential campaign.

“I think it’s beyond that level. The results of this week, I think he’s going to have a very serious credibility problem with the American people,” said Rep. Deborah Pryce, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Republican Conference.

The Kerry campaign declined to say where or when Mr. Kerry met with foreign leaders and discussed his presidential campaign, which officially began Sept. 2 last year. They refused to give any hints about the leaders such as what region, what continent or even which hemisphere they’re from. The Kerry aides also have refused to say how many foreign leaders privately have endorsed their boss.

According to travel records kept by the Secretary of the Senate, Mr. Kerry’s last official trip abroad was in early 2002 when he visited the United Kingdom, Jordan, Egypt and Israel. The only other trip noted in Senate records since that time is an October 2002 domestic trip to Charleston, S.C., to appear on MSNBC’s Hardball program.

The Washington Times also scoured White House, State Department and other public records for all official trips made to the United States by foreign leaders since the start of last year. During more than 30 such trips, Mr. Kerry was out of town campaigning, at home or in the hospital for a prostate-cancer operation, according to his travel schedules from this year and last.

The only instance found when Mr. Kerry was in the same town as a foreign leader was Sept. 24, when New Zealand Foreign Minister Philip Goff was in Washington meeting with State Department officials. On that day, according to his schedule, Mr. Kerry received the endorsement of the International Association of Fire Fighters in Washington.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush was in New York meeting with the leaders of Germany, India, Pakistan, Ghana and Mozambique on that same day.

Pressed about the lack of evidence for any such meetings, Ms. Cutter said world leaders are weary of Mr. Bush’s “go-it-alone” handling of the war in Iraq.

“After September 11, we had an enormous amount of good will from around the world for helping us seek out who was responsible” for the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, she said. “This administration quickly squandered that good will by pursuing a very arrogant foreign policy. It’s time to rejoin the community of nations.”

It may well be true that leaders are pulling for Mr. Kerry to win.

A survey of world opinion in 2003 for the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that in most countries, Mr. Bush ranked lower in popularity than Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Other presidential candidates also have been dogged by charges they were not truthful. In 1988, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, withdrew from the presidential campaign after news reports that he had lifted whole passages from speeches by British Labor party leader Neil Kinnock.

Republicans said they are beginning to see a pattern in Mr. Kerry’s remarks.

In a February meeting with the editorial board from the New York Daily News, Mr. Kerry said Mr. Bush, for political reasons, delayed closing the deal to have Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi surrender his weapons of mass destruction program.

“There’s evidence that we could have had that deal some time ago,” Mr. Kerry told the newspaper, saying he had heard “from friends in the British government that the deal was in a slow lock.”

But the paper said Mr. Kerry refused to give specifics.

Then earlier this month, Mr. Kerry called for an investigation into whether the U.S. overthrew Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, telling NBC’s “Today” show a “very close friend in Massachusetts” had talked with people who had made accusations that Mr. Aristide had been kidnapped.

“I don’t know the truth of it. I really don’t. But I think it needs to be explored, and we need to know the truth of what happened,” Mr. Kerry said.

Republicans said Mr. Kerry’s remarks remind them of former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark, who said — and later recanted — that he knew of a secret Pentagon memo listing the next countries after Iraq to be attacked in the war on terror.

In a speech to the Dupage County Lincoln Day dinner in Oak Brook, Ill., last night, Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said Mr. Kerry has “a more vivid imagination than General Clark.”

“Kerry’s imaginary friends have British and French accents,” Mr. Gillespie said.

Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican and third-highest ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said such a political conversation occurring between a U.S. senator and the leader of a foreign country is hard to imagine.

“It would just be so inappropriate,” he said. “I think it would be insulting.”

Several foreign leaders denied having any such conversations with Mr. Kerry, including Mr. Schroeder, whose spokesman issued a denial.

And Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told Australian radio this week that the remarks certainly didn’t come from Australian leaders. He said it’s not right either for leaders to make those comments or for a candidate to make them public.

“I think it’s probably better to keep foreign leaders and the views of foreign leaders out of domestic elections, I mean, certainly we do that here in this country. I mean, people express different views to you, if you’re a candidate, I tend not to pass on those kinds of views publicly,” he said.

Even if Mr. Kerry’s comments are true, several Republicans said, it’s hardly something to brag about.

Republicans mocked Mr. Kerry after European newspapers reported that North Korea leader Kim Jong-il would prefer that Mr. Kerry win.

“Rather than dealing with President George W. Bush and hawkish officials in his administration, Pyongyang seems to hope victory for the Democratic candidate on November 2 would lead to a softening in U.S. policy towards the country’s nuclear-weapons program” according to London’s Financial Times, which said that Mr. Kerry’s speeches are being broadcast on Radio Pyongyang and reported in “glowing” terms.

“The mullahs in Iran probably don’t care to have Bush in there because he won’t suffer terrorists or the country’s that harbor them,” said Mr. Allen. “I want a president who cares about what’s right rather than the U.N. protocols.”

And a poll taken by Andres McKenna Polling and Research found that Americans overwhelmingly believe “the terrorists would prefer” Mr. Kerry to win the election.

The poll of 800 registered voters, taken in February, showed 60 percent thought terrorists would be happier with Mr. Kerry, while just 25 percent said the terrorists would prefer Mr. Bush.

Said Ms. Cutter: “I don’t care what the Republicans are saying. The story here is the good will squandered by the Bush administration.”

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