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Edwards: New president needed for 'fresh start' with allies

Sen. John Edwards speaks on CNN's "Larry King Live."
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CNN's Larry King talks to Sen. John Edwards.

John and Elizabeth Edwards talk about the terror threat.
John F. Kerry
John Edwards
America Votes 2004

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Sen. John Edwards said Wednesday that based on his recent conversations with NATO ambassadors, U.S. allies "believe that in order for them to have a fresh start with America, we're going to need a new president."

"Now, they're not going to want to say this very vocally, of course," the presumptive Democratic vice presidential nominee said on CNN's "Larry King Live."

"But the reality is that in order for us to re-establish old relations and to establish new relationships, I believe we need a new president."

Edwards said he based that conclusion on his recent trip to NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, before he became the running mate of presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry.

Asked if NATO officials had implied that they wanted a change in the White House, he said, "They didn't say that directly."

"What they said was they're very frustrated with the way this administration has dealt with them," Edwards said, without identifying any officials by name.

Earlier in the campaign, Kerry's charge that unnamed foreign leaders did not want to see Bush re-elected caused an uproar among Republicans, who assailed him for putting a desire for international cooperation ahead of American interests.

Edwards also told King that a Kerry administration would not take "off the table" the option of the United States making a pre-emptive strike against another country if U.S. security is threatened.

"But I might add ... that the [Bush] administration has gone to this doctrine of pre-emptive strikes, which is completely unnecessary," he said. "Laying this doctrine out just said to the rest of the world, 'We don't care what you think. We're going to do whatever we want when we please.'

"It's just not the way to interact with the rest of the world."

'We can make the country safer'

A week before he delivers his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts, Edwards said he would use the address to "make sure the country knows more about me as their vice presidential candidate" -- and that they also "know more about John Kerry."

He said he would also outline "some pretty clear ideas about our vision for the country."

Edwards also said he thinks the fight against terrorism -- which has been one of the centerpieces of Bush's re-election campaign -- is a legitimate campaign issue.

"What I'd like to see is a serious debate about the differences ... between what President Bush has done and not done and the things that John Kerry and I would do," he said.

"I say that we can make this country safer than it is today, and I think if you were to ask most Americans about how they feel, I think they feel a significant degree of vulnerability. And I believe there are other things that ought to be done to keep this country safe that are not being done."

Among the specific items that Edwards mentioned were increasing port and border security, improving intelligence operations and securing chemical and nuclear plants and other vulnerable facilities.

Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, who appeared with him on "Larry King Live," faulted the Bush administration's efforts for dealing with terrorism on a "personal level."

"I don't know now any more than I knew on September 9 or 10 what I would do differently if there were an attack on my town, and I don't think most Americans know what they would do differently," she said.

"I think it's the role of the government, [the] role of Homeland Security, to help us know how to protect ourselves. We don't want just a paternalistic the-government-will-take-care-of-you in some abstract way," she said.

John Edwards also took issue with the tone of the Bush campaign, insisting that he and Kerry would not resort to negative advertising.

Edwards listens as his wife, Elizabeth, speaks about the Bush administration.

"You've been president of the United States and vice president for almost four years, you spent $100 million roughly on television, and the vast majority of that -- $80, $90 million of it -- has been spent in attack ads against an opponent who's really just becoming known by the American people," he said.

"I happen to believe that most voters in this country are sick of that."

Responding to Republican criticism of his work as a trial lawyer before coming to the Senate, Edwards said he was "proud" of his past fighting "for kids and families against big insurance companies and HMOs."

"I think it's a mistake to stereotype and demagogue against anybody or any profession," he said. "I think that it's a mistake to lump everybody into the same category. I think some lawyers do very good things."

Elizabeth Edwards, an attorney herself, said "you want to almost sort of whisper to the Republicans, 'This is not a fight you want to have, not with this man, because he did such great work and helped so many families in real ways.' "

Sen. Edwards started a weeklong campaign swing Wednesday that will take him to the convention in Boston. In New York, he attended three fund-raisers that the Kerry campaign said would raise $1.3 million, including a stop Wednesday night at the trendy Crobar nightclub.

On Thursday, Edwards will be in Connecticut before traveling to Colorado on Friday to join Kerry on the pre-convention campaign trail.

Edwards also was asked about former Clinton national security adviser Samuel Berger, who stepped down as an unpaid adviser to the Kerry campaign Tuesday amid a Justice Department criminal investigation into his removal of classified documents from the National Archives while doing research for the 9/11 commission. (Full story)

"I actually know Sandy Berger well. I think he's a terrific public servant, a very good man," Edwards said, though he noted that all he knew about the Berger investigation was what he had seen in the news.

"He doesn't seem like the kind of man who would do anything knowingly illegal to me," the senator said.

CNN's Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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