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Dole Closes Ranks With Clinton on Iraq Before Audience of Veterans

September 4, 1996

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ Bob Dole mixed strong support for the strike against Iraq with subdued criticism of President Clinton Tuesday, suggesting ``the beginning of decisive action″ had been too long in coming.

The Republican presidential nominee, who the day before had accused Clinton of ``weak leadership″ in dealing with Saddam Hussein, told a cheering audience of veterans that he supported U.S. troops in the attack ``without hesitation or reservation.″ And he added, ``In matters like this all of us think not as Republicans or Democrats but as Americans.″

Still, Dole’s comments continued to suggest past indecisiveness on the part of the administration.

``I trust this is the beginning of decisive action to limit the power and arrogance of Saddam Hussein,″ Dole told his audience of about 3,200 Legionnaires.

Dole was treading a narrow line _ not wanting to appear to be criticizing the president during a foreign policy crisis but at the same time wanting to advance his own qualifications as commander-in-chief.

Dole’s overall support for the operation _ both in his well-received American Legion speech and in an earlier written statement issued hours after the first cruise missile attacks _ drew thanks from Clinton in a telephone conversation with Dole.

A fresh attack, described by the Pentagon as a ``mop up″ operation against the same targets, was announced Tuesday night in Washington.

Vice President Al Gore said Dole’s initial criticism of Clinton was the result of ``letting politics cloud his better instincts.″

``It’s a political season and I guess the temptation was a little bit more than he could resist,″ Gore said on CNN’s ``Larry King Live.″

The GOP candidate, wearing his American Legion cap from Post 99 in Russell, Kan., said in his speech, ``Our thoughts and prayers at this moment are with our men and women in uniform who were sent on a difficult mission above the skies of Iraq.″

Dole received a standing ovation and was interrupted several times with boisterous applause from his audience, made up heavily of World War II-era veterans.

Overall, some 15,000 Legionnaires and their families were here for the annual convention, and the town was abuzz about the overnight air strikes.

``Some of my buddies were just talking about it ... thought it was long overdue. But we were kind of wondering about the timing of it. Was it a coincidence that the election is getting close?″ said Legionnaire James Weimann, of New Haven, Mo.

Weimann said that he was for Dole and that a poll of convention delegates ``would show most but not all are for Bob Dole.″ He said there is still lingering distrust of Clinton because of his avoidance of military service during the Vietnam War.

Miguel Blanco, commander of American Legion Post 48 in Puerto Rico, said he thought ``a majority of the convention favors Bob Dole because he’s a wounded veteran.″

Dole, a World War II Army veteran, was severely wounded in Italy in 1945 and still has no use of his right arm and only partial use of his left.

Keith Gwilliam, past national vice commander of the Legion from Roy, Utah, said, ``I anticipated the attack. It was probably overdue. But I don’t think it was politically motivated. This is a non-partisan issue.″

Dole and Clinton talked by phone for about five minutes at about 11:30 a.m. EDT. Clinton ``expressed appreciation″ for Dole’s statement and Dole ``told him rest assured he wouldn’t say anything in his (American Legion) remarks to offend the president or any other American,″ said Dole spokesman Nelson Warfield.

The presidential rivals had ``a very good telephone conversation,″ said White House press secretary Mike McCurry.

Warfield said Clinton had tried to reach Dole first on Tuesday morning through the Dole campaign headquarters and Dole called him back.

Dole also said he conferred by telephone with retired Gen. Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is a Republican and Dole supporter.

Warfield said Dole incorporated some suggestions from Powell, the chief military officer during the Persian Gulf War, into his speech.

These apparently included five goals spelled out by Dole: withdrawal of Saddam’s Republican Guard from northern Iraq, the release of Kurdish prisoners, an end to interference by Iraq and Iran among the Kurds, re-establishing the U.N. nuclear weapons inspection effort and ending Saddam’s support of international terrorism.

On other issues, Dole emphasized the ``American values″ of ``duty, honor and sacrifice, commitment to family, love of God and patriotism without apology.″

``I want to raise these issues because we cannot understand and face the challenges of our time without them,″ Dole said.

Warfield said Dole was not ``trying to turn up the volume on values in the aftermath of the Morris situation,″ referring to last week’s resignation of Clinton political strategist Dick Morris in a morals scandal. Still, he added with a smile, ``there may have been some adjustments″ to the speech as a result.

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