McCain edges away from Bush but seeks his help

DENVER (Reuters) - Republican candidate John McCain edged further away from U.S. President George W. Bush on foreign policy on Tuesday even as he accepted Bush’s help in raising much-needed campaign dollars for his White House bid.

The Arizona senator said in a speech that he would pursue nuclear arms reduction talks with Russia and China as part of a foreign policy vision that brings back “broad-minded internationalism and determined diplomacy.”

“It is a vision not of the United States acting alone, but building and participating in a community of nations all drawn together in this vital common purpose. It is a vision of a responsible America, dedicated to an enduring peace based on freedom,” McCain said.

Bush has often been accused of going to war against Iraq without broad international support and participation, a policy that his critics charge has damaged the U.S. image abroad.

It was the latest attempt by McCain to separate himself from Bush and chart an approach with appeal to independent voters who could play an important role in the November election.

Republican strategists believe McCain as the party’s presumptive presidential nominee needs to put as much distance as possible between himself and Bush when the president’s low approval rating threatens to drag down the Republican brand.

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At the same time, McCain needs to employ the president’s significant fund-raising prowess to try to keep pace with Democratic front-runner Barack Obama’s money machine, which has raised millions of dollars from small donors.

Bush will kick off raising money for McCain on Tuesday and Wednesday at three events in Arizona and Utah, but they will only be together at one and it will be out of the public eye.

Obama, campaigning in Nevada, made sure to point out the McCain-Bush event. He is trying to portray McCain as little different from Bush.

“He’s holding a fund-raiser with George Bush behind closed doors in Arizona. No cameras. No reporters. And we all know why. Senator McCain doesn’t want to be seen, hat-in-hand, with the president whose failed policies he promises to continue for another four years,” Obama said.

At the University of Denver, McCain, 71, faced down a handful of anti-Iraq war protesters who interrupted his speech several times with chants of “End this war,” and “What about Iraq?”

McCain took the opportunity to stress his support for the current U.S. strategy in Iraq and castigate those who would withdraw U.S. troops.

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“By the way, I will never surrender in Iraq. Our American troops will come home with victory and honor,” he said.

McCain’s non-proliferation objectives would go beyond the Bush administration.

He proposed more nuclear arms reductions, said he would consider Russia’s proposal to expand an intermediate range nuclear weapons treaty, expressed a willingness to talk to China about arms reductions, and backed an overseas nuclear waste repository to avoid building a controversial storage facility in Nevada.

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“These are all different from the Bush administration,” said McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann.

The Obama camp said his ideas sound a lot like Obama’s.

“No speech by John McCain can change the fact that he has not led on non-proliferation issues when he had the chance in the Senate,” said Obama spokesman Bill Burton.

(Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; writing by Steve Holland; editing by David Alexander and David Wiessler)

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