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Clinton says ending war more important than apology for vote

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton signed posters in Dover, N.H., yesterday before going to Washington, D.C., to vote on a GOP procedural move that blocked a vote on an Iraq resolution. (KATIE McMAHON/REUTERS)

DOVER, N.H. -- Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton told New Hampshire voters yesterday that ending the war in Iraq is more important than whether she repudiates her 2002 vote authorizing President Bush to use military force there.

The New York senator repeatedly has faced calls for her to say her vote was a mistake. New Hampshire Democrats pressed her on it last weekend and again yesterday at a town hall meeting in the early-voting state.

One of her rivals, former North Carolina senator John Edwards, has disavowed his vote. Another, Senator Barack Obama, has opposed the war from the outset. The Illinois senator was not in Congress at the time of the war vote.

Yesterday, Clinton was asked by a University of New Hampshire professor why she refused to apologize for voting to give Bush the authority for the March 2003 invasion.

"I take responsibility for my vote. It was a sincere vote based on the facts and assurances we had at the time. Obviously I would not vote that way again if we knew then what we know now," she said, her oft-repeated explanation.

She added: "I have to say, if the most important thing to any of you is choosing someone who did not cast that vote or said his vote was a mistake, then there are others to choose from. But for me, the most important thing now is trying to end this war."

Clinton also responded to demands from Edwards and former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack for Congress to cut off money for US troops. The two-term senator argued that such calls fail to acknowledge the legislative reality that Democrats hold a slim majority in the Senate.

"I understand the politics of this. I could very easily stand up here and say, 'I'm all for cutting off funding,' knowing we don't have the votes," Clinton said. "We have to end this war, and we can't do it without Republican votes."

Clinton cut short her New Hampshire visit for yesterday's Senate vote on whether to end a Republican procedural move that blocked a vote on an Iraq resolution.

Democrats fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance the nonbinding resolution opposing President Bush's troop increase.

Clinton introduced legislation late Friday that would require the Pentagon to begin pulling US forces out of Iraq three months after the bill becomes law, an unlikely scenario given the number of Republicans in Congress and Bush's veto power.

"It's time to say the redeployment should start in 90 days or we will revoke authorization for this war," Clinton said in a statement.

At the town hall meeting, she also stressed a diplomatic approach.

"You don't refuse to talk to bad people. I think life is filled with uncomfortable situations where you have to deal with people you might not like," she said, pausing when the audience began to laugh. "I'm sort of an expert on that. I have consistently urged the president to talk to Iran and talk to Syria. I think it's a sign of strength, not weakness."