(Adds Huntsman on CBS in 24th-25th paragraphs.)
Nov. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Republican presidential candidates said the U.S. must stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, through tougher sanctions, aid to opposition parties, covert action against the country’s nuclear scientists, and a military attack as a last resort.
Businessman Herman Cain called for assisting the opposition movement to bring down the regime. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia advocated “taking out” Iran’s nuclear scientists. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney said he’d order a military strike if nothing else worked.
As president, Cain said he would “assist the opposition movement in Iran that is trying to overthrow the regime” -- short of providing weapons.
Cain and the other Republican hopefuls debated at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, yesterday, hosted by CBS News and the National Journal. It was their first debate focused on U.S. national security and it came less than a week after a United Nations watchdog agency said Iran was seeking to develop nuclear warheads for its missiles.
Romney said that not preventing Iran from making progress toward nuclear weapons is President Barack Obama’s “greatest failing.” He said he too would work covertly to “encourage” Iranian dissidents. Romney said it would be “unacceptable” for Iran to have nuclear weapons.
Pressure on Iran
Cain said he also would put pressure on Iran by developing a U.S. “energy independence strategy.”
“By having our own energy independence strategy, we would impact the price of oil on the world market, because Iran uses oil not only as a -- a means -- a currency, but they use it as a weapon,” he said.
Cain, Romney, Gingrich, Texas Governor Rick Perry, Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Representative Ron Paul of Texas, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman squared off in the 10th Republican debate.
The Republican candidates were critical of Obama, particularly on his dealings with Iran and Pakistan. There were disagreements among the candidates on issues including waterboarding and foreign aid.
Obama is in Hawaii hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and will visit Indonesia on Nov. 17-19 as the first U.S. president to participate in the East Asia Summit. In between the two meetings, he’ll visit Australia to discuss expanded military ties.
Iranian Nuclear Weapons
Obama said he and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, also attending the forum, agreed that the two nations must be part of a “common response” to keep up pressure on Iran over its nuclear program. Concern about Iran’s actions has increased following a report this week from the International Atomic Energy Agency that presented evidence Iran has been working to develop the capability to produce nuclear weapons.
Perry called for sanctions on Iran’s central bank, while Gingrich called for secret operations and elimination of Iranian scientists to stop the nuclear developments.
Gingrich said he would back “maximum covert operations to block and disrupt the Iranian program, including taking out their scientists, including breaking up their systems, all of it covertly, all of it deniable.” He also pressed for “maximum coordination” with Israel.
Iranian Scientist Assassinated
An Iranian scientist working in the nation’s nuclear program was assassinated in Tehran on July 23, the state-run Mehr news agency reported, citing local police.
Dariush Rezaei was killed and his wife was injured when assailants riding motorcycles opened fire in front of his home in the capital, the agency said. Rezaei, a university professor, had a degree in neutron physics and worked in Iran’s nuclear plant’s department, the Mehr agency reported. Iran said in January that it was increasing protection for its scientists following the assassination of two physicists last year.
Perry said that his administration wouldn’t give any foreign aid “to countries that do not support America” and his administration’s foreign aid budget would “start at zero dollars” for all countries.
Nations who want U.S. foreign aid would have to prove that they support U.S. efforts, Perry said.
“We need a president of the United States working with a Congress that sends a clear message to every country,” Perry said. “It doesn’t make any difference whether it’s Pakistan, or whether it’s Afghanistan, or whether it’s India.”
Aid to Israel
Perry said that he would apply the same zero marker for foreign aid to Israel. Still, he said he expected Israel to continue receiving aid under his presidency.
“Israel is a special ally. And my bet is that we would be funding them at some substantial level,” he said. “But it makes sense for everyone to come in at zero and make your case.”
The U.S. aid to Israel is spelled out in a Memorandum of Understanding both countries signed in 2007 that pledged $30 billion in U.S. security assistance over a 10-year period.
Gingrich said he would cut foreign aid to countries that adopt anti-Christian policies. Gingrich said the so-called Arab Spring, the democratic uprising in the Mideast, risks becoming “anti-Christian spring” in Muslim nations such as Egypt, where Coptic Christians have been attacked.
Bachmann and Santorum said they would oppose eliminating foreign aid and said the U.S. should keep Pakistan as an ally with the help of aid.
Huntsman said today his rivals for the nomination were engaging in “soundbite campaigning” by urging sharp cutbacks in foreign assistance. “Let’s also be smart enough to say we do as a people get a certain return through foreign aid,” Huntsman said on the CBS “Face the Nation” program.
Huntsman said he would condition American aid to Pakistan on movement in that country toward reform and expansion of the free market. “We’ve got have an ongoing relationship with Pakistan that allows them to move in the direction of stability,” Huntsman said on CBS.
Cain and Bachmann said that they would favor waterboarding as an interrogation technique because it is effective. Their position was opposed by Huntsman and Paul.
Cain said that he doesn’t see waterboarding as torture and does not “agree with torture. Period.”
“However, I would trust the judgment of our military leaders to determine what is torture and what is not torture. That is the critical consideration,” Cain said.
Obama issued an order which directs all government personnel to follow the Army Field Manual guidelines for interrogations. The manual bans the use of threats and physical abuse such as waterboarding during questioning.
The CIA acknowledged using waterboarding, in which water is poured into a cloth placed over a detainee’s mouth to simulate drowning, in three cases. Among those subjected to waterboarding was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The candidates differed on how tough they would get in their dealing with Pakistan if they were to be elected. Cain said he wasn’t sure if Pakistan was a friend or foe and called for more military commitment from the South Asian nation to combat terrorists.
Perry said he did not trust Pakistan’s political and military leadership and proposed looking afresh at U.S. foreign aid to countries each year instead of awarding a set amount year after year. Gingrich agreed with Perry’s view.
Bachmann and Santorum opposed cutting off aid or threatening Pakistan because the country has a nuclear arsenal. If the Pakistani state were weakened, terrorists might get access to those weapons, said Bachmann, a member of the intelligence committee in the U.S. House.
Asked how he would counter China’s attacks on U.S. computer networks that lead to theft of intellectual property, Perry said “fighting this cyber-war, I would suggest, is one of the great issues that will face the next president of the United States and we must win it.”
Romney said he would get China’s attention to stop the attacks by taking the country to the World Trade Organization for manipulating its currency in order to artificially lower prices and run a trade surplus.
“And that allows us to apply selectively tariffs where we believe they are stealing our intellectual property, hacking into our computers or artificially lowering their prices and killing American jobs,” Romney said.
China ‘Trade War’
Huntsman, Obama’s former ambassador to China, countered Romney and Perry’s talk on China saying that a confrontation with the world’s second largest economy may hurt the U.S. too.
“I don’t know that this country needs a trade war with China. Who does it hurt?” Huntsman said. “Small businesses in South Carolina, our exporters, our agriculture producers” would be hurt by such a move, he said. “We don’t need that at a time when China is about to embark on a generational transition.”
Across the country in Hawaii, Obama called for more cooperation and a constructive relationship with China, before heading into a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Honolulu.
--With assistance from Zaid Sabah Abd Alhamid and Julianna Goldman in Washington. Editors: Steven Komarow, Ann Hughey.
To contact the reporters on this story: Roxana Tiron in Washington at email@example.com; Gopal Ratnam in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
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