BERLIN – It can be considered undiplomatic, and none of them actually gets to vote. But some foreign leaders and political figures haven't been able to resist the question: Bush or Kerry for U.S. president?
Sometimes it's coded but fairly clear, as with Russian President Vladimir Putin's (search) subtle support for President Bush. Sometimes it's angry and slashing, as with the denunciation of Bush by Malaysia's former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (search).
And often it's less than surprising, as with a Kerry endorsement from a Norwegian Labor Party leader, or with the denunciations of either or both candidates from countries that have poor relations with the United States, such as Iran and Cuba.
The U.S. election has seized the world's attention like no other in the past, and a strong stake in the outcome has prodded some leaders into abandoning traditional norms of protocol and stating a preference.
Calculation often lies behind endorsements from abroad, or the lack of one.
Putin, for instance, appears to be trading support for Bush in the war on terror for diminished criticism of Russia's heavy-handed campaign against separatist rebels in Chechnya.
The Russian leader said during a trip to Tajikistan that attacks on coalition forces in Iraq were aimed at defeating Bush. "If they achieve that goal, then that will give international terrorism a new impulse and extra power," he said.
Putin opposed the invasion of Iraq. But the statement equating a Bush defeat with a victory by terrorists was a clear indication of support, although he has refused to say explicitly which candidate he likes better.
Others who have weighed in include Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who has sent troops to Iraq in a humanitarian role. "I'm close to Bush so I'd like him to do well," he said.
Another Asian heavyweight, Singapore's founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, seemed to lean Bush's way by saying that what "Asia needs is president who can withstand the pressures of protectionism, pressures against outsourcing, (and) is able to keep free trade going."
In Malaysia, Mahathir left no doubt over his feelings. Referring to Bush in a newspaper interview, he said that the U.S. electorate "appears to be willing to accept a person who told a blatant lie and to elect a liar."
Predictable comments came from places such as Iran and Cuba.
"We haven't seen anything good from Democrats," said Hasan Rowhani, head of Iran's top security decision-making body, the Supreme National Security Council.
Cuban parliament speaker Ricardo Alarcon had little optimism about Kerry either: "Given what he's said already, it seems like with him it would be more of the same."
European leaders have mostly kept silent. An exception: Norway's Labor Party leader Jens Stoltenberg, who said, "We wish the best of luck to John Kerry."
Poland's President Aleksander Kwasniewski took a poke at Kerry for supposedly slighting Poland's contribution of troops in Iraq during the Democrat's first debate with Bush.
"The fact that a senator with 20 years' experience does not appreciate the Polish sacrifice is painful," Kwasniewski said. But the remark could be seen more as sticking up for Poland than as any kind of endorsement.
"Everyone has his own interests," Alexander Rahr, a scholar at the German Council on Foreign Relations, said of such comments. The silent Europeans know they will have to deal with the winner no matter who it is, "and they don't want to put all their eggs in one basket."
Hence no breath of endorsement from France or Germany, despite Bush's less-than-warm relations with President Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
German officials — who strongly opposed the war on Iraq and have consistently said they will not send troops to Iraq — have been particularly reluctant to comment on the American election, said Thomas Risse, a U.S. elections expert at the Free University in Berlin.
"Whatever they say now can only backfire on them," Risse said.
He said victory for Kerry — who has said he would seek more international support in Iraq — could put Schroeder in a difficult position after he rode to re-election in 2002 largely on his promise not to send troops to an Iraq "adventure."
Foreign journalists and scholars who met Putin at a conference outside Moscow last month got another hint of the Russian leader's preference when he referred to polls showing that only 7 percent of Russians supported Bush. But that number, Putin said, included "some very influential people," according to Rahr, who attended.