`Moment of truth' at hand for U.S., Iraq, Kerry says

He calls for U.N., NATO to play a greater role

May 01, 2004|By Jill Zuckman | Jill Zuckman,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

FULTON, Mo. - Sen. John Kerry said yesterday that Iraq and the United States face "a moment of truth" as they seek to rebuild the violence-racked country, while President Bush said from the White House that "we're making progress."

Kerry, fleshing out his calls to internationalize the rebuilding of Iraq, urged that a United Nations high commissioner be named and that NATO play a significant part in security and reconstruction. He also called for France, Russia, China and Britain to take on major roles.

Today is the one-year anniversary of Bush's visit to the USS Abraham Lincoln, aboard which he declared that major combat had ended. A red, white and blue banner on the ship declared, "Mission Accomplished."

"I don't think there's anyone in this room today or 6,000 miles away who doesn't wish that those words had been true," Kerry said at Westminster College, where Vice President Dick Cheney had spoken four days earlier.

"But we've seen the news," Kerry said. "We've seen the pictures. And we know we are living through days of great danger."

Over the past year, more than 700 U.S. troops have died in Iraq.

At the White House, Bush said Iraq has come a long way since before the invasion. He said that the most brutal features of Saddam Hussein's government no longer exist and that "a friend of terror has been removed and now sits in a jail."

In his speech Monday, Cheney questioned Kerry's judgment, so angering the college's president, Fletcher Lamkin, that he invited the Massachusetts senator to speak on the campus, where Winston Churchill made his "Iron Curtain" speech in 1946.

"This anniversary is not a time to shout," Kerry told the crowd. "It is not a time for blame. It is a time for a new direction in Iraq and for America to work together so that once again this nation leads in a way that brings the world to us and with us in our efforts."

Kerry has long urged that the campaign to rebuild Iraq be internationalized. Yesterday he provided new details, essentially laying out steps for bringing other countries into the effort.

First, he said, other members of the U.N. Security Council should be brought in "to share the political and military responsibilities and burdens of Iraq with the United States."

The coalition should endorse the transition plan of U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, Kerry said, and a high commissioner should be appointed.

NATO should contribute forces and "take on an organizing role," he said.

"This may be our last chance to get this right," Kerry said. "We need to put pride aside to build a stable Iraq."

Bush defended his speech aboard the aircraft carrier a year ago, saying that he had cautioned the returning troops "that there was still difficult work ahead."

Kerry, who was enthusiastically applauded at a college known for its conservatism, said other countries should join an international effort in Iraq because it is in their self-interest.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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