WASHINGTON -- Democrat John F. Kerry said yesterday he's open to nominating antiabortion judges as long as that doesn't lead to the Supreme Court's overturning the landmark 1973 Roe ruling that made abortion legal.
Kerry, the presumptive nominee of a party that overwhelmingly favors a woman's right to choose whether to have an abortion, struck a moderate note as he lashed out at one of the high court's most conservative justices, saying he regrets his 1986 vote to confirm Antonin Scalia.
In a 60-minute interview with AP reporters and editors, Kerry covered a range of issues, from the economy, gun rights, and his differences with President Bush to Mideast violence and the mounting death toll in Iraq.
If elected, Kerry said, he will see that virtually all US combat troops will be out of Iraq, away from what he called "the death zone," by the end of his first term.
He grudgingly gave Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress credit for creating 900,000 jobs this year, echoed the administration's views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and seconded Bush's decision to nominate Alan Greenspan for a fifth term as chairman of the Federal Reserve.
Those were fleeting passes at bipartisanship, as Kerry spent the bulk of the session criticizing Bush and fleshing out his own political vision, which critics have called muddled.
"The message is clear, folks," he said. "We're going to make America stronger at home by being fiscally responsible, investing in health care and education, becoming energy independent, and we're going to make ourselves stronger in the world by restoring America's respect and influence with a better foreign policy. It's that simple."
Kerry said Bush has damaged relations with allies to the point that only a new president can repair them. The problem is evident in Iraq, said the decorated Vietnam War veteran. "It will not be like Vietnam," Kerry said. "I will get our troops home from Iraq with honor and with the interests of our country properly protected."
How soon? "It will not take long to do what is necessary," he said. "I'm not going to give you a specific date, but I'll tell you that I have a plan, and I will put that plan in place."
Republican Richard M. Nixon used similar language during the 1968 presidential race, but the war dragged on for years after his election. Kerry said his goal would be achieved in his first term.
As to abortion, Kerry said he has voted in favor of "any number of judges who are prolife or pro-something else that I may not agree with," some of whom were nominated by Republican presidents. .
Asked whether they must agree with his abortion-rights views, he quickly added: "I will not appoint somebody with a 5-4 court who's about to undue Roe v. Wade. I've said that before."