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Lincoln Chafee defends Hugo Chavez at foreign policy event

Longshot Democratic presidential candidate Lincoln Chafee defended the late Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez on Thursday, arguing that that the U.S. foe actually wanted "good relations with the United States."

Speaking at a foreign policy forum in Washington D.C., Chafee made the case that "disrespect" from the United States led the U.S.-Venezuelan relationship to "go off the rails."

Hugo Chavez: The 60 Minutes interview 14:28

Chafee, a former US Senator and Governor of Rhode Island, recounted a meeting with the Venezuelan leader: "All I wanted was to sit in Oval Office like the other world leaders get to do, in front of the fireplace," Chavez reportedly said in Chafee's retelling of the encounter.

The Democratic presidential candidate lamented, "we regret so much what happened with Chavez. That he was democratically elected in free elections. I think the doors were open with good relations with us."

Relations between the U.S. and Venezuela were not warm while Chavez was in power. He referred to President George W. Bush as the devil at the U.N. General Assembly. Chavez did say soon after Mr. Obama was elected president that he was ready to send an ambassador to Washington but changed his mind after the president said the Chavez exported terrorism. Chavez then called President Obama a "poor ignorant person" who "should read a little bit so that he learns about...the reality of Latin America."

If elected President, Chafee promised that he would "reach out to people" and "show respect when they're democratically elected."

The Rhode Island Democrat is also unhappy with the "bellicose" rhetoric of the presidential campaign, warning that there was "too much saber-rattling going on right now." Criticizing the Republican presidential field, Chafee exclaimed "listen to the Republican debates - my gosh, you'd think they want to start World War III tomorrow!"

"Let's use the olive branch more often and not threaten war at every step," Chafee said.

But Chafee didn't just go after his former Republican colleagues. He also dinged Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton for a speech she made at the Brookings Institution last month on curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions for listing, in his words, "all these militaristic bellicose actions she would take as President."

Chafee lags far behind his Democratic rivals, currently sitting at just 1 percent in CBS News' latest national poll.

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