WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential contender John Kerry (search) sought to focus on pocketbook issues in key battleground states, but found himself pressed to back up his claim that his campaign has the backing of foreign leaders.
Kerry declined to name any leaders who have voiced support for his candidacy, but said it's clear to even casual observers of foreign policy issues that this country's standing has sagged internationally.
"I'm not going to betray a private conversation with anybody," he said Sunday. "I have heard from people, foreign leaders elsewhere in the world who don't appreciate the Bush administration and would love to see a change in the leadership of the United States."
Pressed on the campaign trail and by reporters to name the leaders, Kerry declined, although he said they were U.S. allies.
"I'm talking about people who were our friends nine months ago," said Kerry. "I'm talking about people who ought to be on our side in Iraq and aren't because this administration has pushed them away."
Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) started the debate when he spoke on "Fox News Sunday" and was skeptical of Kerry's claim.
"I don't know what foreign leaders Senator Kerry is talking about. 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," said Powell. "If he can't list names, then perhaps he should find something else to talk about."
The theme was raised by Cedric Brown, a participant in a town hall meeting in Pennsylvania. He wondered whether Kerry was meeting with foreign leaders "to help you overthrow the Bush presidency."
Pressed repeatedly by Brown, Kerry finally declared: "That's none of your business."
The same issue arose when Kerry met with reporters later Sunday. He said the real issue was the conduct of U.S. foreign policy that has left the nation more isolated in the world.
"The point is that all across the world, America is meeting with a new level of hostility," he said. "There are relationships that have been broken. I think what's important for us as a country is to rebuild those relationships."
Kerry said he is within his rights in keeping confidential conversations he has had with foreign leaders. "I don't think Colin Powell or the president would start listing the names of people who said something critical," he said.
In his campaign, Kerry routinely bashes President Bush for conducting "a reckless and arrogant foreign policy" damaging to national security.
"I think people understand that the United States has lost some of the good will that we had extended to us immediately after Sept. 11. To ignore it is to ignore the reality of the world we live in," he says.
Kerry has not traveled abroad since he joined the presidential race, but he said he has heard a lot from foreign leaders. "I have heard from people around the world that they look forward to the day they would have an administration they could work with," he said.
But he said: "No leader would obviously share a conversation if I started listing them. The point is that all across the world, America is meeting with a new level of hostility."
Kerry found himself dealing with the foreign policy issue during a swing through Pennsylvania and Ohio, two key battleground states where his plan had been to focus on health care and jobs issues in two industrial states that have seen an outflow of manufacturing jobs.