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Bush challenges Kerry comments

Senator pressed on claim about world leaders


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In the debate about John Kerry's assertion that there are world leaders rooting for him in his bid for the White House, the Bush campaign's Mark Mehlman and the Kerry camp's Jeanne Shaheen join us on "Judy Woodruff's Inside Politics" at 3:30 p.m. ET Tuesday.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Tuesday said that his Democratic rival, Sen. John Kerry, should "back up" his claim that a number of world leaders want a new U.S. president.

"I think if you're gonna make an accusation in the course of a presidential campaign, you ought to back it up with facts," Bush said Tuesday during a news conference with the Netherlands' Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende. (Full story)

Bush made his statement when asked by reporters about a comment Sen. John Kerry made to supporters March 8 at a fund-raiser in Florida: "I've met more leaders who can't go out and say this publicly, but boy, they look at you and say, 'You got to win this. You got to beat this guy.' "

A chorus of administration officials have criticized Kerry for the remark and are demanding he name names.

"At the very least, we have a right to know what he is saying to foreign leaders that makes them so supportive of his candidacy," Vice President Dick Cheney said at a Republican fund-raiser in Arizona.

"Senator Kerry has a choice here. He either comes clean with these sources, or it's very clear that the fact of it is that he's making it up," said Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, in an interview with CNN's John King.

Kerry dismissed the challenges Monday, telling reporters that administration officials were trying to divert attention from Bush's record.

Kerry campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said Bush "has squandered the goodwill of 99 percent of the world in just two short years."

"After September 11th, the world was behind us," Cutter said. "Today, George Bush's go-it-alone foreign policies have not made America safer and left our soldiers in a shooting gallery in Iraq."

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan on Monday urged Kerry to "be straightforward" with American voters and disclose which international leaders told him they support him.

If he won't, McClellan said, "then the only alternative is that he is making it up to attack the president of the United States.

Cutter shot back that if McClellan was going to take on campaign issues, Bush "ought to get him off the taxpayers' payroll and stop using the White House for political purposes."

"The bottom line is this White House would be better off spending its time repairing our alliances around the world so we can collectively fight the war on terrorism and better protect the United States, rather than using the White House press room as a place to carry out political attacks," she said in a written statement. (CNN.com Special Report: America Votes 2004)

Secretary of State Colin Powell joined the fray over the weekend.

"I don't know what foreign leaders Senator Kerry is talking about," he told "Fox News Sunday."

"It's an easy charge, an easy assertion to make. But if he feels it is that important an assertion to make, he ought to list some names. If he can't list names, then perhaps he should find something else to talk about."

Asked about the comments, Kerry, a four-term senator from Massachusetts, told reporters Monday the president's allies were trying to divert attention from Bush's record.

"They want to change the subject from jobs, health care, environment, Social Security," he said. "They don't have a campaign, so they're trying to divert it."

Kerry told a Bush supporter at a Pennsylvania jobs forum Sunday that the leaders who made the comments were speaking to him in confidence and are currently engaged in work with the Bush administration.

While declining to name names, Kerry said Sunday that he has had conversations with world leaders over the last two years and also has friends who have met with concerned leaders as recently as a week ago. He described the leaders as "allies" and "friends" of the United States who have been alienated by the Bush administration.

"I have heard from people who are leaders elsewhere in the world who don't appreciate the Bush administration approach and would love to see a change in the leadership of the United States," he said.


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