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Republicans Slam Obama on Iran, Jab Pakistan

Republican presidential candidates holding a debate

Republican White House hopefuls have slammed President Barack Obama’s handling of Iran and vowed a tougher line — even going to war — to stop Tehran obtaining nuclear weapons, reports AFP.

“If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon,” former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney said Saturday as the candidates opened their first foreign policy debate. “If you elect me as the next president, they will not.”

But former pizza chain executive Herman Cain, running neck-and-neck with Romney in the polls, said “the only way you can stop them is through economic means,” pledging tougher sanctions, and support for domestic opposition groups.

Former House speaker, Newt Gingrich, whose support has recently surged, sided with Romney, calling for “maximum covert operations” against Iran’s suspect nuclear program, “including taking out their scientists” and sabotage.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN atomic watchdog, said Tuesday it had “serious concerns” based on “credible” information that Iran has “carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”

Former Republican senator, Rick Santorum said the United States “should be working with Israel right now to do what they did in Syria, what they did in Iraq, which is take out that nuclear capability before the next explosion we hear in Iran is a nuclear one — and then the world changes.”

Republican Representative, Ron Paul said it was “not worthwhile” to go to war to halt Iran’s suspect nuclear program, and compared the heated US rhetoric against Tehran to the flawed case for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“I’m afraid what’s going on right now is similar to the war propaganda that went on against Iraq. You know, they didn’t have weapons of mass destruction and it was orchestrated,” he warned.

Gingrich and Romney criticized Obama on Syria, saying he had done too little to help protesters there as President Bashar al-Assad’s bloody crackdown on demonstrators left an estimated 3,500 people dead.

They both urged covert action in Syria.

Most of the candidates sharply criticized Pakistan, with Texas Governor, Rick Perry saying he would restrict foreign aid — which is allocated by the US Congress — to countries that do not support American interests.

Cain said Washington’s ties to Islamabad “must be re-evaluated” and said “we don’t know, it’s not clear” whether Pakistan is friend or foe of the United States.

Cain, Republican Representative Michele Bachmann, Santorum, and Perry all said they would keep the Guantanmo Bay prison open and overturn Obama’s ban on harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists widely seen as torture.

“If I was president I would be willing to use waterboarding,” said Bachmann, referring to a method of simulated drowning.

Perry agreed “I don’t see it as torture,” he said. “I see it as an enhanced interrogation technique,” using the preferred term under Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush.

However, Paul bluntly declared “waterboarding is torture” and said “It’s illegal under international law and under our law. It’s also immoral and it’s also very impractical.”

Former US envoy to China, Jon Huntsman sided with Paul, saying: “We diminish our standing in the world and the values that we project which include liberty, democracy, human rights, and open markets when we torture.”

The Republicans also tarred Obama as an unreliable friend to staunch US ally Israel — hoping to energize their conservative Christian base and douse his support among Jewish voters, a key bloc in heavyweight states such as Florida.

Foreign policy can define a presidency but is unlikely to decide the election: US voters are focused foremost on the sour economy, and the May US commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden has polished Obama’s credentials.

Romney and Gingrich also took a hawkish line on Obama’s decision to order the slaying of US-born key Al-Qaeda figure Anwar al-Awlaqi — agreeing it was the right thing to do — although Paul called into question its legality.

Asked about what are seen in Washington as Beijing’s unfair trade practices, Perry vowed a hard line and predicted China’s communist government would “end up on the ash-heap of history” — Republican icon, Ronald Reagan’s prediction about the Soviet Union.

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