WASHINGTON - Raising his visibility as a leading voice for President Obama on foreign policy issues, Senator John Kerry Friday called Mitt Romney “naive’’ and “wrong’’ for asserting that Russia is the nation’s top enemy.
Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, criticized the former Massachusetts governor and presumed GOP presidential nominee for being “inappropriately threatening’’ when the two countries should be seeking cooperation.
“I think that candidate Romney has been breathtakingly off target, and naive, and in fact wrong in his judgment about Russia when he said Russia is our number one foe,’’ Kerry said in an interview aired Friday night on Bloomberg TV’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt.’’
During an interview with CNN in March, Romney called Russia “without question our number one geopolitical foe’’ in the wake of President Obama’s “hot mike’’ comment in Seoul to then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have “more flexibility’’ in diplomatic dealings with Russia after the presidential election.
In an opinion piece Sunday in the Chicago Tribune, Romney clearly viewed Moscow as a threat, calling “a revanchist Russia’’ a peril to the NATO alliance.
“At the same time that President Obama has been weakening our military, he has sent the message - intentionally or not - that the worth of NATO has diminished in America’s eyes,’’ Romney wrote. He did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
Kerry’s remarks echoed similar statements by President George W. Bush’s secretary of state Colin Powell, who earlier this week cautioned Romney about describing Russia as a foe.
“Foe means enemy,’’ Powell told CNN. “Will we have differences of opinion with the Russians? Yes. Will they get mad at us from time to time, and we get mad at them? That’s part of the normal diplomatic relations.’’
Without naming names, Powell also raised concerns in an MSNBC interview about Romney’s foreign-policy advisers, saying some were “quite far to the right.’’
One of the advisers is John Bolton, the conservative ambassador to the United Nations under Bush. When Bush nominated Bolton for that position, Powell, who had left the State Department, declined to join five other former Republican secretaries of state in endorsing him.
Kerry, expected to be on the short list of possible successors to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a second Obama term, said he recently met with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and learned how similar the US and Russian positions are on Syria, which has been beset by more than a year of civil unrest.
The United States has proposed sanctions against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, but Moscow and Beijing have resisted.
Kerry said the Russians “believe Assad has to go. I don’t think most people know that. They have a difference of opinion as to how we might achieve that and I think there are ways for us to actually be much more cooperative with Russia on a number of issues. So I think it is an enormous mistake to push Russia away and to make it the enemy that it is not today.’’
Certainly, the level of US-Russia cooperation could be better, Kerry said.
“But we have much bigger problems on this planet in the Middle East, with the evolution of Egypt, with the challenge of Syria, terrorism, Al Qaeda in Yemen, and so forth in the Arabian Peninsula.’’
Kerry is an obvious go-to spokesman for Democrats on matters of geopolitics. “He’s chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and he’s been traveling the world. He’s got expertise,’’ said Kurt Volker, who served as the US ambassador to NATO from 2008-09.
A top Kerry aide who asked not to be identified also said, “He’s a natural foil for Romney because they are from the same state.’’
It represents a role reversal from eight years ago when Romney, in a prime-time speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention, assailed then-presidential candidate Kerry.
“I’m proud to be from Massachusetts where John Kerry will be the junior senator until 2008. You see, I don’t believe Senator Kerry is the leader our country needs,’’ Romney said. “I respect his four months under enemy fire in Vietnam. It’s John Kerry’s record in his nearly 40 years since Vietnam that’s the question.’’
The two men have not developed much of a relationship, whether personal or official. During much of Romney’s term as governor, Kerry was running for president.
Friday’s Bloomberg interview was not the first time Kerry has found fault with Romney’s foreign policy pronouncements. In a March opinion article in the Washington Post, Kerry took issue with Romney’s comments on the campaign stump on Iran’s nuclear development. Romney had pounded Obama for, in his view, not taking seriously enough the threat posed by Iran.
“Creating false differences with President Obama to score political points does nothing to move Iran off a dangerous nuclear course,’’ wrote Kerry. “Worse, Romney does not even do Americans the courtesy of describing how he would do anything different from what the Obama administration has already done.’’
During the Bloomberg interview, Kerry also criticized Romney’s economic policies, saying that as governor he took the Bay State “backwards in employment, backwards in income.’’
“I believe that as the race goes on, there’s going to be an extraordinarily clear choice,’’ he said. Romney’s support for more tax cuts - which Kerry likened to “Bush on steroids’’ - would further hurt the economy and make it more difficult to balance the federal budget, he said.
“So Romney wants to reduce even more the available revenue to deal with a crisis for our country economically. I can’t think of anything more irresponsible than that.’’Bobby Caina Calvan can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter @GlobeCalvan.