Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Bush confronts Malaysian PM

By Richard Benedetto, USA TODAY
BANGKOK — President Bush broke diplomatic protocol at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit Monday and confronted Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad over remarks about Jews that Mahathir made while hosting a summit of Islamic countries last week.

Ignoring the usual courtesy of avoiding conflict with fellow leaders, Bush took Mahathir aside to express his displeasure. Bush said the remarks were "wrong and divisive," spokesman Scott McClellan said. (Related story: Malaysia's leader renews claim)

The prime minister said Thursday, "The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million, but today Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them."

"It stands squarely against what I believe," Bush told Mahathir, McClellan said.

Mahathir, an opponent of globalization and a critic of the Iraq war, is attending his last summit before retiring after 22 years in power.

"It's not the first time that he's made outrageous remarks, and those remarks were hate-filled remarks," McClellan said.

Mahathir has not apologized. He did not comment on what Bush said to him.

Malaysian officials have said Mahathir's remarks were taken out of context.

Other leaders joined Bush's denunciation. French President Jacques Chirac said in a letter to Mahathir, "Your remarks on the role of Jews provoked very strong disapproval in France and around the world. ... These remarks can only be condemned by all those who remember the Holocaust."

Bush has been courting Jewish voters and has given strong backing to Israel and the policies of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. His advisers see that stance as winning him a greater share of support from Jewish-Americans in the 2004 presidential election. In 2000, Democrat Al Gore was supported by 81% of Jewish voters, who are an important bloc in the populous states of New York, Florida and California.

Contributing: Laurence McQuillan in Washington and wire reports

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