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Friday, October 27, 2006

Australia 'a nuclear threat' OOOPPPPPS

By Geoff Elliott
October 28, 2006 12:00am

HAROLD Ford, a handsome 36-year-old from Tennessee, has become one of the sensations of the mid-term elections in the US and a reason why Democrats are a good chance of winning back control of the US Congress for the first time in 12 years.

But if Mr Ford, already a US congressman, wins his bid to become a more powerful senator, Australia had better watch out.

Because according to Mr Ford, Australia has an interest in nuclear weapons and is part of the broader nuclear threat to the US.

In a speech to county government officials yesterday in Knoxville, Mr Ford - listed in People magazine in 2001 as one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world - electrified the audience, as he does everywhere he speaks.

He's charismatic and seamlessly weaves a national political story into his own. He speaks about how he will clean up corruption-plagued Washington using the brand of right and wrong that he learned growing up as an African American in the south; how he has old-fashioned parents who were ready to snap a piece of switch from the tree in the front yard of their home in Memphis and cane him if he broke the rules.

If victorious on November 7, Mr Ford will be the first popularly elected black from the South to take a seat at the exclusive 100-member Senate.

His skilled oration on domestic politics may be flawless, but his grip on foreign policy is error-prone. Yesterday he stumbled into gaffes on the North Korean nuclear tests and then mentioned Australia in the same breath as rogue nations wanting to go nuclear.

"Here we are in a world today where more countries have access to nuclear weapons than ever before," Mr Ford said, adding that when he left college in 1992 he thought the nuclear age had come to an end "and America would find ways to eliminate the number of chances that a rogue group or a rogue nation would get their hands on nuclear material".

"Today nine countries have it - more than ever before - and 40 are seeking it, including Argentina, Australia and South Africa," he said.

Mr Ford was referring to the nine known nuclear weapon states: the US, the UK, Russia, China, France, India, Pakistan, Israel and now North Korea.

He said this made the US less safe because "more countries have nuclear weapons today which means the possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands has increased dramatically".

On North Korea, he claimed Pyongyang had conducted two nuclear tests, the first of which he said occurred on July 4. This confuses the ballistic tests Pyongyang carried out on that date with the single nuclear test earlier this month.

The gaffes were lost on the audience and he was given a rousing standing ovation from Democrats and Republicans alike. Any chance of clarifying Mr Ford's remarks with the man himself was impossible as minders shielded any international media from asking questions, ushering Mr Ford away.

"You don't win us any votes," said his spokeswoman. And she might have added that it also means he is insulated from pesky questions probing his limitations on enunciating a foreign policy involving a trusted ally.

Not that any of that appears to matter much in Tennessee. The polls have Mr Ford in a dead heat with Republican Bob Corker.

And it is not clear if Mr Corker has benefited from a controversial campaign ad that has aired on Tennessee television in which a scantily clad woman claims to have met Mr Ford at a Playboy party. Mr Ford was one of 3000 guests at a Playboy party for the Super Bowl last year.

The ad has been pulled after a storm of protests.



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