WASHINGTON -- In a withering attack on President Clinton's foreign policy, Sen. Bob Dole asserted yesterday that the administration's record in Asia was one of "weakness, indecision, double talk and incoherence" that had "diminished American credibility and undermined American interests."
He said the president had "squandered the rich foreign policy legacy he inherited."
Although Dole's foreign policy positions in the past have not veered far from Clinton's, he sought yesterday to highlight their differences in his first major foreign policy speech since becoming the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
Dole called for linking U.S. allies in an anti-missile defense shield, argued that the United States should commit itself to defending Taiwan against any attack by China and urged an end to direct talks with North Korea.
On the other hand, siding with Republican moderates -- as well as with Clinton -- he reiterated his support for retaining trade privileges for China despite Beijing's widely deplored record on human rights and arms sales.
In a briefing afterward, Vice President Al Gore contended that Dole's attacks were mere "dust" to cover the fundamental point that the Senate majority leader agreed with Clinton on extending most-favored-nation trade status for China.
In retaining his support for such trade status for China, Dole had quelled an intraparty dispute and rejected a push by his GOP rival, Patrick J. Buchanan, and others toward "isolationism and know-nothingism," the vice president said.
In one sharp departure from Clinton administration policy, Dole proposed working with Japan and South Korea to develop and deploy missile defenses. Dole warned that those nations, and the U.S. troops positioned along the Demilitarized Zone in Korea, face an immediate threat of hostile ballistic missiles.
The Clinton administration has kept alive the idea of developing missile defenses, sometimes nicknamed "star wars" programs. But it shows far less enthusiasm than do many Republicans and insists there is no reason to deploy them anytime soon.
Dole would not only envelop America's two principal Asian security allies, Japan and South Korea, in the program; he would also include Taiwan, thus upgrading the security relationship with the island nation and injecting a new irritant into U.S.-China relations.
Washington is committed to helping Taiwan defend itself and in recent years has sold it warplanes and other weaponry.
Under accords with China, however, such arms sales are supposed to decline over time. The United States has not explicitly pledged to defend Taiwan, although many see an implicit commitment and the United States sent warships to the Taiwan Strait earlier this year when China was menacing Taiwan with maneuvers and missile tests.
Besides including Taiwan in a regional missile-defense program, Dole would sell it advanced weapons that are barred by the Clinton administration.
The Clinton administration's "ambiguous" policy on defending Taiwan "only sends a signal of uncertainty -- to Taiwan, to China and to our Asian allies," he said.
"Our policy should be unmistakeably resolute: If force is used against Taiwan, America will respond," Dole said.
The senator leveled his harshest attack against Mr. Clinton's handling of the nuclear threat from North Korea. The Clinton administration inherited a crisis in which the Stalinist North Korean regime was suspected of developing a nuclear arsenal.
Despite setbacks, the administration managed to negotiate a deal in which Pyongyang agreed to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for fuel oil and a U.S. promise of billions of dollars'
worth of new nuclear technology.
Dole noted that there have been reports that North Korea has diverted the oil to its armed forces.
The senator charged that the administration had "showered" North Korea with aid, diplomatic contacts and technology, even though Pyongyang keeps the world's fifth-largest army within yards of U.S. soldiers and sells military technology to outlaw states including Iran and Libya.
He said the administration had also begun talks on nonproliferation with North Korea "despite the regime's blatant violations of existing arms-control agreements."
"Indeed, discussing nonproliferation with North Korea is like discussing religious tolerance with the Hezbollah," he said, referring to the extremist Islamic group based in southern Lebanon.
On China, Dole ridiculed the president for citing pollution as the gravest threat posed by China, when in fact Beijing is engaged in a military buildup, sells dangerous weaponry abroad, represses human rights, violates intellectual property rights and restricts access by foreign products.
"This type of strategic incoherence in Sino-American relations has contributed to the conviction shared by allies and adversaries alike that American leadership in Asia is fragmented, contradictory and uncertain," Dole said.
But apart from sharing missile defense with regional allies, Dole acknowledged: "We must be realistic about what we can achieve. China is in a protracted leadership transition. We can do little to influence that transition."
Although his aides denied it, the senator was reported to have passed up previous opportunities to lay out his Asia policy because his advisers were divided over what he should say about China and trade relations.
Buchanan in an op-ed article this week in the Washington Post urged Dole to "seize the high ground" and vote to deny most-favored-nation status to China, which he described as "a human rights hellhole."
Contrary to some predictions, Dole didn't even call for any conditions on the trade extension. "Denying MFN would not free a single dissident, halt a single missile sale, prevent a single threat to Taiwan, or save a single innocent Chinese life," he said.
Pub Date: 5/10/96