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GOP Presidential Hopefuls Speak On Administration’s Persian Gulf Policy

May 30, 1987

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ Vice President George Bush said Saturday the United States ″cannot let fear be our guide″ in the Persian Gulf.

Addressing Midwest Republicans, the vice president said it was important to the free world to ensure freedom of navigation and protect the free movement of oil from the region.

The events in the Persian Gulf diverted the attention of delegates to the GOP Midwestern Leadership Conference from their original goals of getting a look at presidential contenders and trashing the Democrats.

Many of Bush’s rivals for the 1988 presidential nomination expressed reservations about administration policy in the Persian Gulf.

″No one mourns the loss of the men on the Stark more than I,″ said Bush, referring to the Americans sailors killed when a U.S. frigate was struck by a missile fired from an Iraqi plane.

″But having said that, we cannot let fear be our guide. We cannot run and hide,″ he said. ″We must not let the faint-hearted voices carry the day.

″I for one will not cut and run from the president when the going gets tough.″

But other GOP presidential contenders were less supportive of the administration handling of the situation, particularly the plan to have Kuwaiti tankers sail under U.S. flag and protection.

Among the presidential candidates, former Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. openly differed with President Reagan’s handling of the crisis, while former Gov. Pete du Pont of Delaware was skeptical of the plan to give U.S. protection to Kuwaiti oil tankers.

″I have some qualms about it,″ Senate Republican leader Bob Dole, of Kansas told a news conference.

A fourth contender, Rep. Jack Kemp of New York, backed the administration plan.

″I find it difficult to justify the administration position,″ said Haig, who said giving protection to Kuwaiti tankers ″amounts to a de facto military alliance with Iraq.″ Kuwait supports Iraq in its war against Iran.

″That’s an odd arrangement,″ said du Pont when asked about the administration plan.

Also scheduled to participate in the two-day conference were the Rev. Pat Robertson and former Sen. Paul Laxalt of Nevada who have said they expect to enter the 1988 race, as well as two little-known candidates, Kathleen Heslop of Mississippi and Ben Fernandez of California.

The crowd of contenders at the meeting was a tribute to Iowa’s importance in the process although for Republicans, its traditional position as the state that holds the first caucuses was usurped by Michigan.

Sen. Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas drew a standing-room-only crowd to a foreign policy speech.

The senator, a member of the Foreign Relations committee, said that while there was a good case for U.S. presence in the Persian Gulf ″we moved into this through the back door.″

She said the administration did not act until Kuwait asked the Soviet Union to provide protection for the tankers.

″I’ll be pleased when we have a level playing field for candidates,″ said Haig who complained about Bush’s ability to ″dominate Republican National Committee meetings such as this one.″

While Bush was delivering a full-blown speech, the other presidential contenders were getting about 20 minutes each on the conference agenda.

″Obviously, there is some discrimination here,″ said Dole at an airport news conference. ″But we are allowed to go into the city limits as long as we don’t touch anything.″

″I’m not going to cry about it,″ said Kemp, who conceded ″there’s not much I can do about it.″

Republican Party chairman Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr described the Democratic Party as ″wandering in the wilderness in search of a leader to take it back to the tired liberal solutions of the past.″

Fahrenkopf called the Democrats ″the party of higher taxes″ and said that on arms control ″they are willing to bargain away the store.″

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