Iranian leader pegged as thug

Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., addressed a small group in Columbia, explaining his opinions on health care and education.

COLUMBIA - Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., called Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a "thug" on Friday and said the United States needs to negotiate with other Iranian leaders instead.


"This is a guy who refuses to acknowledge the existence of the Holocaust," the presidential hopeful said as he campaigned in South Carolina. "This is a person who is not worthy, in my view, of sitting across the table with serious negotiators."

But U.S. leaders should sit down with Syria and other Iranian "centers of control and power beyond the office of the president" as part of a diplomatic strategy to work toward a more stable Iraq, he said.

Mr. Dodd is critical of the way President Bush has handled the war and believes it's time to start redeploying U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq.

Speaking before a group of about 65 people at the University of South Carolina, he devoted most of his time to economic and domestic issues:

- Early childhood education is key to enabling the United States to compete globally, and the federal government needs to work more actively with states to improve the educational system.

- Addressing the country's health care needs will require some difficult decisions, such as determining whether it's more important to provide access to health care for children or to pay for a 90-year-old's knee replacement.

- He said he would challenge the country as president to be "totally independent" of Persian Gulf energy sources within 10 years.

Less than a year before South Carolinians head out to vote in the first-in-the-South primaries, Mr. Dodd said he recognizes that his campaign has not received the kind of media attention other Democratic hopefuls have - most notably, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, a South Carolina native.

Last month, Mr. Dodd spoke to a group of fewer than 100 people at a Richland County breakfast meeting during the same week that Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton each drew crowds of thousands.

"I think the only problem that Sen. Dodd has is that nobody knows who he is," audience member Tarnisha Gibson said.

If he can address that, she said, "I believe he has about as much a chance as anybody else."

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