GOP hopefuls blast Obama at AIPAC

The Republican presidential candidates apparently weren’t listening to President Obama when he addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Sunday and spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Monday. Or, if they heard what Obama said, they just didn’t believe him.

Obama reassured the pro-Israel lobbying group and Netanyahu that the United States “will always have Israel’s back” on security issues and is determined to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. He declared that “all elements of American power” are still available to stop Iran’s enrichment program.

But Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich on Tuesday dismissed Obama’s promises and accused the White House of weakness in trying to thwart Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Speaking to the AIPAC delegates — Santorum in person and Romney and Gingrich via satellite from the campaign trail — the GOP hopefuls castigated Obama’s administration for seeking more time to allow sanctions to work by ratcheting up economic pressure on Iran’s leaders.

They used the type of heated rhetoric that was common during the presidency of George W. Bush but generally has been eschewed by Obama — calling the Iranian government “a terrorist regime” (Romney), adherents of “radical Islam” (Gingrich) and “the most radical regime in the world (Santorum).

“The president speaks of common interests. Let me be very clear about this: We do not have common interests with a terrorist regime,” Romney said, to applause. He added, “It is profoundly irrational to suggest that the ayatollahs think the way we do or share our values. They do not.”

Santorum accused Obama of “appeasement” and said waiting for sanctions to work sends a message to Iran that it does not need to take the United States seriously.

Obama “says he has Israel’s back,” Santorum said. “From everything I’ve seen from the conduct of this administration, he has turned his back on the people of Israel.”

Gingrich said that, as president, he “would not keep talking while the Iranians keep building. The red line is not the morning the bomb goes off — the red line is now.”

Israel, which has its own undeclared arsenal of nuclear weapons, has concluded that Iran’s leadership has decided to pursue one as well. International inspectors have uncovered evidence to suggest a military intent for a program but have yet to draw firm conclusions. Iran says its nuclear activities are related to energy production, not weapons production.

The Obama administration is not convinced that Iran’s leaders are pursuing a nuclear weapon, but Obama says that such a development would be counter to U.S. interests and has vowed not to let it happen. U.S. diplomats worked with European allies to implement oil and banking sanctions against Iran to pressure its government to give up its uranium-enrichment program.

The Republican candidates promised the AIPAC delegates that, if elected, they would do everything possible to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons — including military action if necessary. But Obama, too, has stated directly that United States policy is to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear capability.

“We do believe that there is a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution to this issue, but ultimately the Iranians’ regime has to make a decision to move in that direction, a decision they have not made thus far,” Obama said Monday, with Netanyahu sitting at his side. “I reserve all options, and my policy here is not going to be one of containment. My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.”

The Republicans made clear that they, unlike Obama, would not urge Israel to give sanctions time to work. They were sharply critical of an announcement Tuesday that the United States and five other global powers would resume nuclear talks with Iran that were suspended more than a year ago.

Santorum called the decision “another appeasement, another delay, another opportunity for them to go forward.”

Romney declared that “hope is not a foreign policy. The only thing respected by thugs and tyrants is our resolve, backed by our power and our readiness to use it.”

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