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(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Taking time out of frantic last-minute campaigning for Super Tuesday primary votes, three GOP presidential candidates slammed US President Barack Obama on Iran and Israel during appearances at a major pro-Israel event.
As world powers announced fresh talks with Iran, the three candidates warned against further delay in halting Iran’s nuclear program before a receptive audience at the final day of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s three-day policy conference.
Front-runner Mitt Romney, who could begin to wrap up the nomination if he performs well in enough of Super Tuesday’s 10 participating states, lambasted Obama for having a “policy of procrastination” on Iran.
“As president I will be ready to engage in diplomacy. But I will be just as ready to engage our military might,” he said.
He called for communicating more “credible military options” against Tehran and said he would diplomatically isolate the regimes representatives abroad, indict Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad under the UN Genocide Convention and station more navel assets in the vicinity or Iran.
Former Massachusetts governor Romney, who appeared via a live satellite link he delivered in front of American and Israeli flags, also criticized voices in the administration who have spoken repeatedly in recent days about the fallout of an Israeli attack.
“We can’t continue to express a point of view that makes it sound like we’re more concerned about Israel taking action against Iran than we are about Iran becoming nuclear,” he said to applause in response to a panel assembled at the AIPAC conference to ask him questions remotely after his prepared remarks.
Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator who is Romney’s strongest challenger, called the administration’s decision to re-enter negotiations with Iran “another appeasement, another delay, another opportunity for them to go forward while we talk.”
Santorum, despite being in a neck-and-neck race with Romney for Tuesday’s biggest prize, the key swing state of Ohio, was the only candidate to appear personally at the event. The fourth candidate, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, did not show up at all.
Santorum also mocked Obama’s recent repeated comments that he has “Israel’s back,” saying to applause, “From everything I’ve seen in the conduct of this administration, he has turned his back on the people of Israel.”
Former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who also appeared via live satellite link, echoed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s words to AIPAC the night before when he stressed that Israel must be able to decide for itself what it needs to do to protect its security.
“If an Israeli prime minister decides that he has to avoid the threat of a second Holocaust through pre-emptive measures, then I would require no advanced notice,” he said to applause.
Gingrich, who’s hoping a strong victory in his home state of Georgia Tuesday will keep him in the race, has helped stay in the race despite trailing significant in delegates and poll numbers because of the backing of casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, once a major AIPAC donor.
Gingrich endured an awkward moment when he finished his short remarks to allow for a panel to ask him questions, but unlike Romney, no panel had been assembled by AIPAC’s organizers. There was also no panel for Santorum. AIPAC did not respond to a request for explanation by deadline.
Throughout the day the Democrats and Republican campaigns sparred over Iran, with the Democratic National Committee sending out blast video’s and background sheets challenging the GOP candidates on their Middle East policies and defending Obama’s record.
The Romney campaign retaliated with a fact sheet in which it listed six alleged exaggerations on Iran and Israel contained in Obama’s speech to AIPAC Sunday.
On a DNC press call to discuss the Republicans’ attacks at AIPAC, New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer strongly defended Obama’s approach to Iran.
A staunch supporter of Israel, Schumer acknowledged that “it’s no secret we’ve had our differences on certain parts of Israeli-Palestinian policies.” But he said that when it comes to Iran, “he’s been resolute from the get-go.”