(photo credit: AP)
Republican presidential candidates jumped on their Democratic opponents for lacking clarity of action on Iran during a Republican Jewish Coalition conference Tuesday.
Speaking to a Jewish audience and focusing overwhelming on national security issues, the candidates sought to use Iran - and their willingness to talk and potentially act tough on the issue - to demonstrate why they would be the best to protect Jewish and Israeli interests.
Front runner Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, derided the Democrats' support for negotiations with the Islamic Republic.
"You cannot negotiate with someone who is threatening to destroy you and your family," he said to applause. He specifically singled out Hillary Clinton for at first taking a tougher line on negotiations with Iran than several of the other Democratic candidates.
"That's the first time I agreed with her since she announced she's a Yankee fan," Giuliani said to laughter, before slamming her for seeming to soften her position in recent days.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney took a similar approach when he told the audience they needed to challenge the Democrats by asking, "Will you act to stop a nuclear Iran?" He then declared to applause, "Let me assure you of one thing: I will. It's time to take Ahmadinejad at his genocidal word."
Romney, like Giuliani, stressed the importance of maintaining the possibility of military force.
Romney also criticized the United Nations, saying it had "failed," and said that under him, the US would withdraw support for the UN Human Rights Council, which has frequently singled out Israel.
Arizona Senator John McCain also criticized the United Nations - though he wouldn't support a questioner in the audience who suggested that the US kick the UN off American soil.
But he did say that when it came to Iran, "The United Nations Security Council will not be effective." He was speaking of efforts to sanction the Islamic Republic unless it meets international demands to halt the enrichment of uranium. McCain proposed an intensified sanctions regime lead by the US and its allies.
The candidates emphasized the interests and values the US and Israel share.
Kansas Senator Sam Brownback called "standing with Israel" a "core principle" of the Republican Party.
And former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson, the final speaker, said in prepared remarks, "The terror masters in Teheran and Damascus make only the most minor distinction between America and Israel. They say that America is the Great Satan, and Israel is the Little Satan, and both must be destroyed." He said America must take a strong stance against these forces.
He also said, in response to a question from the audience, that he would not pardon Jonathan Pollard based on the information currently available to him.
Pollard was convicted of passing American secrets to Israel and is currently serving a life sentence. The question was greeted by enthusiastic clapping, but Thompson also received some applause for his response.
"He was convicted of spying against my country," he said. "He got due process and, as far as I'm concerned, he will serve out his prison term."
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