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Inside Politics

Kerry camp calls new ad 'junkyard politics'

Swift Boat Veterans rip visits with N. Vietnamese, Viet Cong

From Phil Hirschkorn
CNN New York Bureau

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(CNN) -- The Vietnam veterans group behind a series of commercials attacking Sen. John Kerry's military record has released a new ad comparing him to Jane Fonda for meeting with North Vietnamese and Viet Cong officials during the Vietnam War.

The Democratic presidential nominee's campaign quickly dismissed the commercial as "junkyard politics."

The group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth said Wednesday that it planned to spend $1.3 million over the next week to run the 30-second commercial in five battleground states -- Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Nevada and New Mexico -- and on national cable networks.

The latest salvo is the fourth anti-Kerry commercial from the group of Vietnam veterans who served on Navy swift boat patrols during that conflict, as Kerry did.

Claims about Kerry's war record in previous ads have been vigorously disputed by his campaign and in media reports and are at odds with official Navy records and eyewitness accounts.

Many of the group's financial backers are also donors to the Bush-Cheney campaign.

A former Bush campaign attorney gave the group legal advice, but it is not unusual for lawyers with expertise in election law to work for numerous clients. The Bush campaign and the Swift Boat Veterans insist they did not collaborate on the ads.

Trip to Paris

The latest ad, titled "Friends," accuses Kerry of "secretly meeting with enemy leaders in Paris," where the U.S. government was involved in off-and-on peace talks with the North Vietnamese.

"Even before Jane Fonda went to Hanoi to meet with the enemy and mock America, John Kerry secretly met with enemy leaders in Paris, though we were still at war and Americans were being held in North Vietnamese prison camps," the ad says.

Kerry made no secret of his trip to Paris, France, in the summer of 1970, either at the time or since. He even spoke about it during testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971.

"I have been to Paris. I have talked with both delegations at the peace talks, that is to say the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the Provisional Revolutionary Government," Kerry told the committee, referring to the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong delegations by their formal names.

At the time of the trip, Kerry was a 26-year-old antiwar activist who had just been separated from active duty in the Navy as a decorated lieutenant.

Kerry, a leader in the group Vietnam Veterans Against the War, told the committee he wanted elected officials, including President Nixon, to declare a cease-fire and set a date for a U.S. troop withdrawal.

Kerry said the North Vietnamese representatives indicated that "if the United States were to set a date for withdrawal, the [U.S.] prisoners of war would be returned."

The chairman of the committee, Democratic Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, told Kerry that Congress had "no capacity ... to go out and negotiate a cease-fire. We have to persuade the executive [the president] to do this for the country."

Kerry, the son of a career Foreign Service officer, replied that he understood.

"I realize that even my visits in Paris -- precedents had been set by Senator [Eugene] McCarthy and others [who had visited Paris] -- in a sense are on the borderline of private individuals negotiating," Kerry said.

U.S. law forbids private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments on matters such as peace treaties.

Peace movement

Kerry has told biographers and reporters that his 1970 trip to Paris was a fact-finding mission to the protracted and often stalemated peace talks.

The negotiations went on for five years before Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and North Vietnamese leader Le Duc Tho signed accords in January 1973 providing for a U.S. withdrawal from South Vietnam and the release of American POWs by North Vietnam.

John O'Neil, a longtime critic of Kerry's antiwar activities and one of the founders of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, defended the latest ad.

"There is no record of what he did at the meeting. He met with the chief negotiators for the enemy. He had no right to do that as a private citizen. He had no right to do it as a naval officer," O'Neil said.

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Stanley Karnow, who covered the Vietnam War as a journalist, said American peace activists, elected officials and diplomats frequently passed through Paris in those days.

"In the peace movement, there was all kinds of showboating. There were people who were frivolous; there were people who were serious," Karnow said. "You'd go over and listen to one of these [North Vietnamese] guys recite some propaganda. You didn't learn very much."

As for the swift boat group's allegation that Kerry met with the enemy, Karnow said, "Half the Washington press corps met with the enemy. We went to dinner with the enemy -- to get information. American officials certainly met with the enemy in the course of the talks."

Chad Clanton, a spokesman for the Kerry campaign, said the Swift Boat Veterans are "a group that has as much credibility as a tabloid magazine."

"The American people are tired of this kind of junkyard politics. They want an honest discussion about how we're going to clean up the mess in Iraq and strengthen our economy," he said.

Actress Jane Fonda earned the enmity of many veterans and the nickname "Hanoi Jane" when she traveled to Vietnam for two weeks in June 1972 and made propaganda statements for the North Vietnamese. She later apologized for her actions.

Fonda was a financial backer of Vietnam Veterans Against the War and spoke at the rally in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where Kerry made his first antiwar speech in September 1970.

Fonda has not seen the ad and declined to comment on it, spokeswoman Pat Kingsley said.

Earlier this year, Fonda told CNN that attempts to link Kerry to her to tarnish his reputation were "hogwash" and "a dirty, black propaganda tactic."

CNN's Abigail Brigham, Steve Brusk, Heather Riley and Shirley Zilberstein contributed to this report.

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