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Kerry faces PR fight over foreign policy

Page 3 of 3 -- Kerry, who as the son of a diplomat spent some of his childhood at a boarding school in Switzerland, fits the bill of the multilateral candidate. He has served nearly two decades on the Senate foreign relations committee. Unlike Bush and Clinton, former governors who had to be tutored on foreign policy during their campaigns, Kerry has conferred frequently with foreign leaders over the years. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, for instance, he conducted a ''listening tour" of the Middle East, meeting with Sharon, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, even Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at his compound in the West Bank.

But Iraq presents a delicate problem for Kerry, who voted for the war but has since vigorously criticized it as waged with too little international support. Another problem, Kerry's advisers concede, is that he will have limited opportunities to change Bush's policies in Iraq if he is elected.

''If he gets to be the president, he inherits the occupation of Iraq at whatever state it might be . . . and all the lousy options that go with it," said Leon Fuerth, former national security adviser for Al Gore.

''The next president of the United States doesn't get to do a thing until after he is inaugurated. The question is: What kind of situation will we be in then? Will it be a situation where it is extremely difficult to hand it off to anybody?"

An option Kerry put forth in a recent op-ed essay in The Washington Post is to place the military in Iraq under NATO, which is commanded by a US general, as a way to share the burden with more foreign troops.

Bush administration officials say they already are exploring ways to expand NATO cooperation in Iraq. NATO has been reluctant without a new UN resolution and has had its hands full in Afghanistan.

''There is no question in my mind that the military operation in Iraq should be a NATO operation, but there is a question at this late stage [whether] it can be done, given the antagonism among key nations in the run-up to the war," said William Perry, former defense secretary under Clinton and a Kerry adviser.

Another idea Kerry put forth was to give far more power to the UN, perhaps allowing UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to take over the role of top US administrator in Iraq now filled by L. Paul Bremer III. Bush already has called on the UN to play a larger role, albeit to a lesser extent, and the UN is hesitant to return to Iraq with a large mission until the security situation improves.

''It's kind of a moot point," a UN official said. ''They are already leaning heavily on Brahimi to help find a formula for the 30th of June [handoff of power]. By the time either Bush is reelected or Kerry is elected, this thing is all going to be played out."

Despite Kerry's multilateralist tendencies, some analysts predict that if he becomes president he probably will have to lead a largely US effort in Iraq and take other unilateral actions -- much as Bush, who promised during his campaign to avoid nation-building, was pushed to do so by world events.

''The world we live in is not going to be terribly different under a Bush presidency and a Kerry presidency," said Ivo H. Daalder, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. ''The United States is the most powerful country in the world, and therefore, the use of American power is going to be indispensable in getting anything done.

''Kerry will find, if he doesn't know it now, that in order to get anything done, whether it is through the UN or through NATO, that the US is going to have to lead . . . using power, using coercion."

Farah Stockman can be reached at fstockman@globe.com. 

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