Katsumi Kasahara  /  AP
A woman in Tokyo walks by a huge video screen that carried the debate.
updated 10/1/2004 8:50:30 PM ET 2004-10-02T00:50:30

Sen. John Kerry scored points against President Bush on the Iraq war during their televised debate, but both men avoided the kind of gaffe that could be a turning point in the presidential election, international analysts and media said Friday.

Whatever the early verdicts were, one thing was clear: the debate attracted a lot of viewers overseas. In Europe, many people had to stay up past 4 a.m. to see the whole debate, and it was not even shown in some Asian countries until Friday morning.

In France and Germany, which opposed the Iraq war, Kerry’s promise of a multilateral U.S. foreign policy was welcomed.

Germans could not help noticing that Kerry’s stand on the Iraq war and his opposition to unilateral attacks is closer to Berlin’s stance, Gernot Erler, a senior lawmaker with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democrats, told n-tv television.

In France, results of a pre-debate poll said nearly 90 percent of French favor Kerry, and one analyst said the reasons why are obvious.

“We are in a logic of ’Anything but Bush,”’ Andre Kaspi, an expert on the United States at Paris’ Sorbonne University, told the daily newspaper La Croix.

“There is no doubt that international support for the United States has fallen a lot in the last four years — in France particularly, but this is a global trend and it is also very strong in the Arab world.”

During the debate, Kerry accused Bush of leaving U.S. alliances around the world “in shatters” and said that as president he would try to win more international support for the war.

In Russia, Italy and Sweden, media Web sites declared Bush’s Democratic challenger the winner in the debate, but some said that may not be enough for a comeback in the polls.

“It wasn’t a knockout victory, but Bush was groggy afterward,” analyst Wolfgang Hansson told Sweden’s leading tabloid, Aftonbladet.

Kerry “won more points,” said Stephan Strothe, a commentator on Germany’s N24 news channel.

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“Kerry seemed to show that he had the stuff to be president. He had more facts in his head, and he was able to explain his position in Iraq,” Strothe said. “He is back in the race.”

London’s Financial Times portrayed it as more of a draw, but one that did not seem to immediately benefit Bush.

Video: “There was no single moment which sealed the debate for one man,” correspondent James Harding wrote on the paper’s Web site.

Citing early polls, he said Bush failed to put Kerry away.

Kerry claimed during the debate that Americans have been left with an “incredible mess in Iraq.”

Bush said Kerry’s varying positions about the war have left American troops wondering how they could follow him as their president.

Kerry also questioned Bush’s handling of North Korea and Iran, two countries suspected of pursuing nuclear weapons programs.

In addition, the two presidential candidates debated the situation in Russia, with Kerry saying President Vladimir Putin’s crackdowns during the war on terror have been excessive.

In South Korea, analysts said the debate showed that Bush and Kerry both favor a tough stand against North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Experts in Seoul said the debate indicated neither would have much patience for delays by North Korea in dismantling its nuclear facilities.

Still, Iraq dominated the debate, and many see that as the election’s turning point issue.

Christian Hacke, a political science professor at the University of Bonn, Germany, said observers must remember that opposition to the Iraq war is much stronger in Europe than in the United States.

“Many Europeans forget that there is a war climate in the U.S., and that emotion can be more important than reason,” Hacke said.

“So while Kerry may have convinced the world, he may not have convinced the U.S., because words like 'determined’ and 'steadfast’ used by Bush play on the emotions of many Americans in this war climate.”

Reporting from the debate site in Florida, the British Broadcasting Corp. headlined the analysis on its Web site: “No knockout blow.”

It said Kerry struck “some serious blows against the president in his handling of the war in Iraq,” but that Bush “didn’t make any serious gaffes that could have left a serious opening for the challenger.”

In Russia, analyst Alexander Kremenyuk said, “Frankly speaking, for an acting president, Bush looked quite weak. He was defending himself. He wasn’t attacking much. ... At some points, he had to justify himself.”

Some Asian viewers also saw Kerry come out ahead.

“I don’t think President Bush did such a good job on the issues. He seemed to waver,” said auditor Rob Liew, a critic of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq who watched the debate while sipping coffee in Singapore.

Interest in the U.S. race is high in Asia, where countries such as Japan, South Korea and Singapore support the U.S. policy in Iraq.

China did not comment on the U.S. presidential race, but Beijing clearly is interested in the candidates’ stands on Taiwan — a topic which did not come up in the debate.

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