Kerry To Meet With Troops In Iraq

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An Iraq visit is on this month's agenda for Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., potential presidential rivals.

Kerry, whose botched joke about U.S. troops in Iraq dealt a blow to his presidential ambitions, will travel to Iraq to meet with soldiers, political leaders and military officials.

"I've talked to plenty of guys who've come back from Iraq, who are there now, who understand exactly what happened," Kerry said of his joke in a telephone interview Tuesday with The Associated Press. "They laugh at it."

The Iraq stop will be part of a nine-day Mideast trip that includes stops in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Israel.

Kerry will spend the latter part of his trip with Dodd, a potential presidential rival and fellow member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

A week before the midterm elections, Kerry told a group of California students that individuals who don't study hard and do their homework would likely "get stuck in Iraq." He said he meant to say "get us stuck in Iraq," but the botched joke intended to criticize President Bush forced the senator to apologize and then lay low for the remaining days of the campaign.

The Massachusetts senator, who was widely criticized for the quip, said he'd be happy to apologize to any soldiers he encounters in Iraq who don't understand what happened.

"For anybody who misunderstood (the joke) or got only the White House presentation of it, I'd apologize, obviously," he said.

Kerry has blamed Republicans for trying to exploit his comic misfire for an edge in the midterm races that saw Democrats recapturing Congress from the GOP.

"Blame's not where I'm at right now. Let's get the policy right in Iraq," he said.

Kerry, who has delayed a decision about running for president after the joke uproar, said he will decide soon about the 2008 contest.

"I will make a decision somewhere towards the end of the year or around the turn of the year," he said.

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    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.