Bush, Gore Voice No Differences on Strong Relationship with Israel

During their second debate, the two major party candidates for president agreed on how to handle the violence in the Middle East.

Both Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush on Wednesday praised the United States’ relationship with Israel and stressed the need for the next president to continue work as a “honest broker” toward peace in the Middle East.

“Our bonds with Israel are larger than agreements or disagreements on some details of diplomatic initiatives,” Gore said. “And our ability to serve as an honest broker is something that we need to shepherd.”

Bush said it is important for the United States to speak with one voice on international issues — and to reach out to Middle East countries to foster mutually beneficial friendships. He also advocated developing an anti-ballistic missile system that can be shared with Middle East countries.

When pressed by moderator Jim Lehrer, both candidates said the United States should side with Israel in the current fighting against the Palestinians and urge Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to end the violence.

Gore suggested the United States must again be wary of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who has made threats against Israel during the current clashes.

Bush said he believed the United States must do more to control the leader whom his father, as president in the early 1990s, fought in the Persian Gulf War.

“The coalition that was in place isn’t as strong as it used to be,” Bush said of the countries opposing Hussein’s leadership. “He is a danger; we don’t want him fishing in troubled waters in the Middle East.”

The candidates argued over who was at fault for Hussein’s current power — the Clinton administration or the administration of Bush’s father.

But Gore said he wants to aid the groups that are trying to overthrow Hussein and said last week’s overthrow of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic could be the model for change in Iraq.

While the candidates were cordial and agreeable on foreign policy issues in the Winston-Salem, N.C., debate, the differences between the two were clear when the subject changed to domestic issues.

With a relaxed format that contrasted with their first meeting in Boston a week earlier, Bush and Gore squared off on the need for hate crimes legislation, gun control and health care.

Bush stayed away from supporting expanded federal hate crimes legislation.

He defended his record in Texas, where a hate crimes bill exists, but another version of the bill, advocated by the family of James Byrd, a black man dragged to death in Jasper, Texas, had died in the state legislature.

“If you have a state that fully supports the law, like we do in Texas, we’re going to go after all crime,” Bush said. “And in this case, we can’t enhance the penalty any more than putting those three thugs to death, and that’s what’s going to happen in the state of Texas.”

Two of the three men convicted of killing Byrd received the death penalty and a third was given a life sentence.

Gore said hate crimes were different from other violent offenses because they single out people, and said hate crimes legislation would “embody our values.”

The vice president said he supports civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, and sided closely with both vice presidential candidates, who last week said that people need to be tolerant and allow gays and lesbians to live as they choose.

Bush said he was opposed to gay marriage, but would also try to be tolerant of those he disagreed with. Bush’s running mate, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, has a lesbian daughter, and said last week in a debate that states should be allowed to decide the issue of civil unions.

The candidates will meet again Tuesday in St. Louis for a town-hall style debate during which undecided voters will ask them questions.

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