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(photo credit: AP)
Iran is the focus of debates between the presidential candidates as they sharpen their attacks in anticipation of the first primaries in January.
Illinois Senator Barack Obama and former North Carolina senator John Edwards jumped on fellow Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton on Friday for allegedly flip-flopping on whether she would negotiate with Iran.
Questioned Thursday by a voter in New Hampshire, Clinton said twice that she would negotiate with Iran without conditions.
"I would engage in negotiations with Iran, with no conditions, because we don't really understand how Iran works. We think we do, from the outside, but I think that is misleading," she said.
Obama noted on Friday that when he said in July he would meet with such leaders without setting any conditions, Clinton called his stance "irresponsible and frankly naive."
"I'm not sure if any of us knows exactly where she is standing on this issue," Obama said. "But I can tell you this - when I am president of the United States, the American people and the world will always know where I stand."
The Edwards campaign also took aim. "Senator Clinton needs to be honest with the American people about her plans," Edwards campaign communications director Chris Kofinis said in a statement. "You can't have it both ways - on this or any other issue."
The Clinton campaign maintained that she had not changed her position.
While she believes in diplomatic engagement with Iran, "she does not agree with Senator Obama... that the United States president should precommit to meeting directly with [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad," said spokesman Howard Wolfson.
Clinton countered with its own Iran attack later Friday, when her campaign slammed Obama for skipping the vote whether to call for Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps to be labeled a terrorist group. Obama and Edwards previously criticized Clinton's vote in favor, with Edwards saying at a recent debate that it paved the way for Bush to go to war with Iran. It is a charge with which Clinton's campaign has strongly disagreed.
"If Senator Obama believed the measure was as dangerous as he says, wouldn't he have had some obligation to stand up, speak out, and fight against it?" a Clinton campaign memo put out Friday asked. "He didn't speak out against it before it was voted on - he didn't even return from the campaign trail to vote."
Since the debate at the end of September, Clinton added her name to legislation by Virginia Democratic Senator Jim Webb requiring Bush to seek explicit congressional authorization to invade Iran.
Among Republicans, Iran served as the crucible for a brush-up between former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and his competitors this week after he was asked whether he would get authorization from Congress before taking military action against Iran's nuclear facilities during a debate Tuesday night.
Romney said he would talk to attorneys, but "obviously the president of the United States has to do what's in the best interest of the United States to protect us against a potential threat." Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani took the lead in criticizing him, as his aides bashed the remark, suggesting that Romney would have a "Lawyer Test" for going to war.
Romney defended his answer in a letter to the Wall Street Journal Friday, writing, "What I said in response, and have said since, is that a president must act to protect the American people. As to what involvement Congress may have, that's a matter for legal consideration."
He added, "As president I would not shrink from the use of military force when grave threats confront America. At the same time, when time and circumstances permit, I would indeed seek the involvement of Congress as required by law and the Constitution."
Romney on Friday also announced a new ad it would be running titled "Jihad." The campaign described it as highlighting Romney's "belief that we must strengthen our intelligence services and our military to confront this century's nightmare, Jihadism."
The piece calls for increasing the US military by 100,000 troops, monitoring the calls al-Qaida makes into America and concludes by saying, "We can and will stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.