Republican US presidential candidates 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Chris Keane)
SPARTANBURG, S.C. - Republican US presidential candidates said on Saturday they would stop Iran from developing an atomic bomb but differed over how to do it in a debate that tested their knowledge of world hotspots.
The US economy has been the No. 1 issue for the 2012 election campaign, so the CBS News/National Journal debate offered a rare opportunity to hear the candidates explain how they would handle the job as commander-in-chief.
The candidates made no major stumbles during the first hour of the 90-minute gathering, but Texas Governor Rick Perry's belief that the United States should consider eliminating foreign aid to Pakistan stirred debate among the candidates.
Newt Gingrich, who came to Spartanburg, South Carolina, riding a new wave of support as the conservative alternative to the more moderate Mitt Romney, declared he would launch covert operations within Iran in order to be able to deny them later.RELATED:How to target the Islamic Republic diplomatically
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Romney, who for months has been a front-runner to win the right to challenge US President Barack Obama in the election next year, vowed in the debate at Wofford College to prevent Iran getting a nuclear weapon.
"One thing you can know is if we elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon," said Romney, a former Massachusetts governor. "If you elect me ... as the next president they will not have a nuclear weapon."
The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, on Tuesday reported that Iran appears to have worked on designing an atomic bomb and may still be conducting secret research related to building such weapons.
Businessman Herman Cain, who has been dogged by sexual harassment
allegations recently, said the only way to stop Iran from developing a
nuclear weapon was through economic means, squeezing Tehran through
sanctions and boosting Iran's opposition movement.
Perry, hurt by a string of poor debate performances, including an
embarrassing gaffe Wednesday night that some observers say might have
crippled his campaign, was insistent that Washington should consider
cutting aid to Pakistan.
While Gingrich agreed, Rick Santorum was adamantly opposed.
"Pakistan is a nuclear power," Santorum said. "We cannot be indecisive
about whether Pakistan is our friend. They must be a friend."
None of the eight candidates on the stage have much in the way of
foreign policy experience, save for former US ambassador to China Jon
Huntsman, but they all criticized Obama for mishandling US relations
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