WASHINGTON - Republican presidential candidates rattled sabers against Iran and skewered President Barack Obama for being soft in his support for Israel on Wednesday as they vied for the backing of Jewish Republicans.
One by one, the major contenders for the Republican nomination to face the Democratic president in 2012 told the Republican Jewish Coalition they would strengthen ties with Israel and not let Iran develop a nuclear weapon.RELATED:Romney vows to visit Israel first if electedRepublican candidates vow to stop Iran nuclear bomb
Candidates took time out from criss-crossing Iowa, New Hampshire and other early voting states to seek Jewish support.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, a front-running candidate, said "covert and overt" activities are needed to pressure Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Tehran denies trying to build a nuclear bomb but most of the world is suspicious.
"Ultimately, regime change is what's going to be necessary," said
Romney, who received a standing ovation from the several hundred
participants in the audience.
Former US ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, who is trying to bite into
Romney's lead in the key early state of New Hampshire, was equally
"If you can't live with a nuclear Iran, and I can't, then you have to say all options are on the table," said Huntsman.
And former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, hoping to do well in
Iowa, said: "I'd like to think we had something to do with" a recent
explosion at a suspected Iranian missile site.
Jewish Americans traditionally support Democratic candidates, but
Republicans hope to make headway in this critical voting bloc by
targeting Obama's policy of pressuring Israel to make key compromises in
the decades-old Middle East dispute with the Palestinians.
Obama angered the Israelis last May when he embraced a goal long sought
by the Palestinians: that the state they seek in the \West Bank and Gaza
Strip should largely be drawn along lines that existed before the 1967
war in which Israel captured those territories and east Jerusalem.
A theme throughout the speeches was the Republican desire to strengthen
the US commitment to Israel and ensure it remains a democratic bulwark
in an unstable region threatened by the possibility of Iran obtaining a
"I will travel to Israel on my first foreign trip. I will reaffirm as a
vital national interest Israel's existence as a Jewish state. I want the
world to know that the bonds between Israel and the United States are
unshakable," Romney said.
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