CORALVILLE, Iowa (AP) – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stuck a toe in the presidential race Friday, taking strong issue after Republican Mike Huckabee accused the administration of having an “arrogant bunker mentality” on foreign policy.

“The idea that somehow this is a go-it-alone policy is just simply ludicrous,” she said, briefly weighing in on politics during a State Department news conference in Washington. “One would only have to be not observing the facts, let me say that, to say that this is now a go-it-alone foreign policy.”

In response, Huckabee said he held Rice in high regard but questioned whether she had read the entire Foreign Affairs journal article in which he made the “bunker mentality” remark that has drawn fire from fellow Republican candidates.

“Certainly she has a right to speak out. She’s still a citizen. I respect her very much,” Huckabee told reporters as he campaigned in Iowa.

But he added: “Did she actually read the article or is she reacting as others have to the headlines and to the synopsis that has been printed?”

Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, has come from behind the GOP field to overtake Mitt Romney in Iowa, which holds the first presidential nominating contest Jan. 3. Polls show the race getting closer, and it has grown more fierce by the day.

In recent days, Huckabee’s foreign policy credentials have become an issue in the race. Romney has cast him as simply an inexperienced joker on foreign policy matters. That’s in connection with a quip the former Arkansas governor made recently in answer to a question on experience: “I may not be the expert that some people are on foreign policy, but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night.”

Speaking to reporters Friday as he traveled between campaign events, Huckabee said he doesn’t believe the current administration foreign policy can be characterized as a go-it-alone policy – “and I don’t think that was the phrase in my article.”

In the Foreign Affairs journal article, Huckabee wrote: “American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out. The Bush administration’s arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad. My administration will recognize that the United States’ main fight today does not pit us against the world but pits the world against the terrorists.”

On Friday, he said that was not criticism of President Bush but rather “a specific observation about that part of administration policies.”

Huckabee said he consulted several foreign policy experts but wrote most of the article himself and took responsibility for its passages. “I certainly approved them,” he said.

Rice was asked about the criticism from Huckabee at a news conference. She did not mention Huckabee by name in her response and at first declined to weigh in, saying dismissively: “Look, I don’t comment on other people’s comments. I don’t have time, all right. I really don’t have time to worry about this.”

But she then launched into a vigorous defense of the administration’s multilateral diplomatic efforts on Afghanistan, North Korea and Iran, and pointed to improving ties with traditional allies in Europe, some of which were strained by the Iraq war.

“We have right now probably the strongest trans-Atlantic relations … I would say in a very long time,” Rice said, noting in particular Britain, France and Germany.

“We’re working with allies in Europe, Russia and China on Iran. The (NATO) alliance is mobilized together in Afghanistan,” she said. “We had 50-plus countries at Annapolis to launch the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. We’re working together with allies in Lebanon.”

“I can go on and on and on and on,” Rice concluded. “And so, I would just say to people, look at the facts.”

AP-ES-12-21-07 1754EST

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