After months of criticizing President Bush for failing to attract international support for the U.S. mission in Iraq, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) shifted his tone yesterday, putting NATO nations on notice that the time has come for them to contribute military forces to help secure the country as a new government takes power.

Kerry did not absolve the administration of responsibility for other nations' reluctance to participate in the Iraq mission, but said it was long past time for them to withhold support, given shifts in U.S. policy that have brought a more active role by the United Nations.

"In light of the failed diplomacy of the Bush administration, that reluctance is not surprising," he said in a statement issued while campaigning in California. "But now is the time that our allies must join the effort to support Iraq's transition. The NATO summit is the perfect opportunity for them to demonstrate their commitment to the new U.N. resolution."

Kerry urged the administration to invite Iraq's interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to the NATO summit in Istanbul next week as a way to put pressure on other nations to send troops to help secure Iraq's borders and safeguard the United Nations' mission.

He said Allawi's presence would challenge NATO countries to respond "to an appeal from the legitimate representative of the Iraqi people" and called the summit "a clear test of their [NATO's] resolve and a clear test of ours."

A senior Kerry foreign policy adviser, who declined to be identified to talk about internal campaign matters, acknowledged that the statement represents a shift. "We're obviously calling on the president of the United States to make the supreme effort to attain these objectives, but we're also calling on NATO to recognize their own interests in terms of what we would like them to do," he said. "Are we shifting direction? Maybe we haven't said it quite this way before."

Kerry's statement put down a marker for the administration in advance of a NATO summit where Bush will be seeking military support, but it reflected the fact that the administration's efforts to involve the United Nations more actively in the creation of a new government in Iraq has narrowed the differences with Kerry on Iraq.

A Kerry adviser said Bush and administration officials must demonstrate that they are prepared to welcome more military support and will operate cooperatively, but Kerry reflected the view of some other Democrats that NATO nations should stand behind their vote for the U.N. resolution. "I hope the NATO countries will live up to that resolution and act on what is in their national interest," Kerry said.

Kerry was far from signaling solidarity with the president yesterday, either on Iraq or in general. Still seething over spending the day in Washington on Tuesday as Republicans blocked a vote on veterans health care, Kerry lambasted Bush on the campaign trail.

"George Bush talked about being a uniter, not a divider," Kerry said in San Francisco, according to news service reports. "But he's been the greatest divider as president in the modern history of the country."

Kerry had ripped up his schedule and returned to Washington from Denver early Tuesday for the vote. He waited all day and then gave up and left for San Francisco on Tuesday evening. "These people are so petty, so sad, so political that all they could do was find a way not to let John Kerry vote," he said yesterday, referring to GOP leaders.

Republicans expressed little sympathy for Kerry, noting that he had missed 89 percent of Senate votes this year. "Senator Kerry's belief that he is entitled to special treatment on one of the rare days he shows up to perform his duties is not shared by his colleagues," said Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt.

While in San Francisco, Kerry spoke to the Service Employees International Union convention, where he called on Congress to act on legislation to negate Monday's Supreme Court decision blocking state laws that allow lawsuits against HMOs.

"Three years ago, we passed a bipartisan and real patients' bill of rights in the Senate," he said, according to a text of his remarks. "It is time we had a president who wants to get this done."

The House passed a separate version with White House support, but the two bills have languished since, with each side blaming the other for the impasse.

Kerry also used the forum to promote his plan to expand access to health insurance, which he said would cut employers' costs by almost $27 billion and reduce health care premiums by almost $1,000 a year, on average.

In Washington on Tuesday, Kerry met with Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), who is among those under consideration for vice president. Edwards declined to describe the meeting, but yesterday he received an unlikely endorsement when independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader urged Kerry to select him. Nader said Edwards, a former trial lawyer, would fight to protect the right of citizens to sue corporations if they have been harmed.

Addressing the Service Employees International Union in San Francisco, Sen. John Kerry said he supports a patients' bill of rights. Attendees offered a standing ovation.