HAMPSTEAD, N.H. -- Former Vermont governor Howard Dean acknowledged yesterday his lack of foreign policy experience as an issue as he seeks the Democratic presidential nomination, but said he would neutralize it with his selection of a vice presidential candidate.
"The fact is it's a resume problem, " Dean told an audience in Litchfield yesterday. "I need to plug that hole in my resume. And I am going to do that with my running mate."
Dean, who leads in polls in New Hampshire and is the fund-raising leader among Democrats, added, "And there are plenty of really good people with an enormous amount of foreign policy experience that can fit that criteria."
Meanwhile, Democratic rival Wesley K. Clark, a retired Army general, said yesterday that Dean had asked him earlier this year to be his running mate -- a contention the Dean campaign denied.
Dean's comments on his choice for a potential running mate were made after a week spent shoring up his foreign policy credentials as Democratic rivals attacked him for saying the United States was no safer after the capture of former dictator Saddam Hussein of Iraq.
Across Iowa and New Hampshire over the weekend, Dean said he was delighted that Hussein had been captured, but repeatedly attacked his Democratic rivals for supporting a war that he said was never justified, calling them Washington insiders in lockstep with opinion polls.
"I think the Democrats I am running against made the wrong choice," Dean said at a meeting with voters in Maquoketa, Iowa, on Saturday. "If these guys are so smart on foreign policy, then why did they vote for us to go to war?"
Dean repeated the criticism yesterday, saying: "I think it's great that Saddam was caught. He'll go on trial, and he'll get his just desserts."
But, he said, larger dangers remain, such as stateless terrorists.
Dean also waded into the thicket of Middle East politics, calling for America to take into account Palestinian claims when acting as a negotiator in the region.
"There has to be an approach at the negotiating table that is, in fact, perceived as fair to both sides. We cannot have an honest broker at the negotiating table with a perceived particular influence," Dean said.
"We are always going to have a special relationship with Israel," Dean continued. "But that does not mean that we can't recognize the legitimate Palestinian claims, and there are legitimate Palestinian claims."
Dean has come under fire for calling for an "evenhanded" approach in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a statement he clarified later by saying he meant that the United States must act as an honest broker in the peace process.
He was also criticized for describing as "soldiers" the members of Hamas, which the State Department has designated a terrorist group. Dean said later that he used the word to justify the Israeli policy of assassinating Hamas leaders.
Yesterday, Dean said, "If both sides are not invested in the peace process, then the process won't work. They have to feel that you've heard their concerns."