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From sidelines, Kerry rips GOP field over foreign policy

Criticizes rhetoric as 'scare tactics'

WASHINGTON -- Senator John F. Kerry blasted the leading Republican presidential candidates on foreign policy yesterday, saying "it should disturb all of us" that the GOP contenders are taking increasingly hawkish stances on national security issues like Iran and the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

In a speech at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, Kerry delivered a stinging commentary on what he described as the belligerent tone of recent Republican primary debates.

"Most of the Republican candidates seemed almost eager to use nuclear weapons preemptively" against Iran, Kerry said.

Several GOP candidates said at a debate last week in Manchester, N.H., that they would "leave all options on the table," including military strikes, to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

Earlier this spring, Senator John McCain of Arizona, singing to the tune of a Beach Boys song, "Barbara Ann," joked at a campaign stop that he would "Bomb, bomb, bomb -- Bomb, bomb Iran."

Without mentioning him by name, Kerry also criticized former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for insisting he would double the size of the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, in which terrorist suspects and enemy fighters are detained.

Kerry said he was disturbed that the proposal "is considered red meat for Republican primary voters." A spokeswoman confirmed that the criticism was directed at Romney.

A Romney campaign spokesman did not respond to requests for comment on Kerry's remarks.

Kerry's speech -- delivered five months after he ended speculation by announcing that he would not run for the Democratic presidential nomination again in 2008 -- roundly condemned the tenor of the nation's foreign policy debates.

Most discussions of foreign affairs in Washington, he said, were "full of simplistic sloganeering and calculated to scare people."

Kerry was particularly critical of President Bush's "war on terror" rhetoric , which he argued misleads the public by lumping together different American adversaries that have little in common into "an undifferentiated 'they.' " As a result, he said, many Americans are confused about basic foreign policy issues.

Kerry cited an opinion poll from last month indicating that 29 percent of Americans still believe former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had a role in planning the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"Policy makers must demand a better debate," Kerry said during a wide-ranging speech and question-and-answer session.

Kerry also called for the Guantanamo prison to be shut down immediately and criticized Bush's oft-stated comment that catching individual Al Qaeda leaders like Osama bin Laden doesn't matter.