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Gore and Bush United on Crises Abroad

Issues: Both ask Arafat to stop the Mideast violence and express sorrow over the fatal attack on a U.S. Navy ship in Yemen.


MILWAUKEE — Presidential combatants Al Gore and George W. Bush were drawn into a temporary show of unity by Thursday's explosive foreign developments, as each put public pressure on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to rein in his countrymen and recommit to the elusive search for Mideast peace.

Vice President Gore, speaking to reporters as he left Winston-Salem, N.C., early Thursday, praised Israel's efforts to achieve peace. He said the next move belonged to the head of the Palestinian Authority.

"The situation there calls not for an instant analysis of who should have done what but what should be done now," Gore said. "And what should be done now is Chairman Arafat should issue orders for this violence to cease and desist.

"I think the burden falls on Chairman Arafat to stop this violence, and it involves not only statements but genuine leadership, statesmanship and courage to rebuild a sense of confidence among Israelis that there is a partner in the negotiation process. He must act now in order to create the conditions for renewed progress in the peace process."

In Greensboro, N.C., where Bush spent the night after Wednesday's second presidential debate, the Texas governor commended the Clinton administration's efforts to broker peace in the Mideast and said it is "time for our nation to speak with one voice."

"Chairman Arafat must stand up and call upon the people he represents to put down their rocks and arms," Bush said. "He must take a leadership role to quell the violence. It's time for him to be a statesman."

Any notion that their debate would be the focus of attention Thursday was dispelled before the candidates awoke. The slaying of at least two Israeli soldiers by Palestinians--and the Israeli army's retaliation--dominated the news coverage. Also deflecting attention from the debate was the explosion aboard the U.S. guided missile destroyer Cole, in Yemen to refuel, in which at least six American sailors were killed.

Gore, acting as a part of the administration, said briefings from National Security Council aides had convinced him that the Yemen explosion was "most likely" sabotage. The vice president broached the topic before several thousand supporters gathered in Cathedral Square in downtown Milwaukee. The rally turned out to be his only campaign event of the day; afterward, Gore scrapped his schedule and returned to the White House for consultations.

"If this business turns out to be a terrorist attack, then I want to make it clear on behalf of all of us that any terrorist should know that whoever is responsible for something like this will be met with a full and forceful and effective retaliatory response from the United States of America," Gore said.

As had Gore in Milwaukee, Bush opened a meeting in the Philadelphia suburb of Langhorne with a moment of silence in memory of the slain sailors. Earlier, speaking to reporters in Greensboro, Bush said he was "saddened and angered" by the apparent attack.

"Let's hope we can gather enough intelligence to figure out who did the act and take the necessary action," Bush said. "There must be a consequence."

The international developments lent a somber air to the day and somewhat muted the post-debate critiques by the candidates, if not their surrogates. Gore and Bush did, however, manage to get in some digs at each other.

At his Langhorne meeting, where he highlighted his proposal to partially privatize Social Security and modernize Medicare, Bush also pledged that he would keep his commitments on the funding of health care and veterans' programs.

"My opponent, on these issues, takes a little different tack," Bush told a cheering crowd. "As the election nears, he has fallen back on a familiar strategy: fear, division and misrepresentation. . . .

"These tactics are one last, parting ploy. After all, Mr. Gore represents the party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but all he has to offer is fear itself. When people attack like that, they usually don't have much confidence in their own ideas or their own record. And in this case, that lack of confidence is fully justified."

For his part, Gore in Milwaukee staunchly criticized Bush's proposed tax cut, which the vice president said would overwhelmingly benefit the rich. He promoted instead his own plan for a tax cut that targets the middle class.

He also repeated his debate gibes at Bush's decision to distribute a recent Texas budget surplus through "a big tax cut" that Gore said would benefit special interests. The proper alternative, Gore said, was a Democratic plan to use the money to expand health care coverage for children.

"I believe that his record in Texas gives us an important window on what his priorities are," Gore said. "This is not a question about my opponent's heart. It's a question about his priorities."

If the principals were selecting their language more carefully on a day fraught with international tension, their surrogates continued to bash each other with relative abandon.

Gore campaign chairman Bill Daley criticized Bush's debate misstatement about the sentences rendered for the three men convicted of the racially motivated killing of James Byrd Jr., who was dragged to death behind a pickup truck in East Texas. Bush said all three were given the death penalty. In fact, only two were, with the third receiving a life term.

Daley used the misstatement to make the same argument about Bush that Bush's team has been making about Gore since his misstatements in the first debate.

"I think he exaggerated, and I think he didn't know what he was talking about," Daley said.

Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes characterized Bush's comment as an honest mistake.

"The Democrats are frantically trying to do everything possible to distract attention from their candidate's problems with credibility," she said.


La Ganga reported from the Bush campaign and Chen from the Gore campaign. The story was written by Times political writer Cathleen Decker.

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