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Transition 2012

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Tracking the Issues: Candidates Talk Tough on Iran at AIPAC

by Newsteam Staff
March 7, 2012

A man waits for the start of the evening's speeches at  AIPAC policy conference in Washington March 5, 2012. (Joshua Roberts/Courtesy Reuters) A man waits for the start of the evening's speeches at AIPAC policy conference in Washington March 5, 2012. (Joshua Roberts/Courtesy Reuters)

GOP candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (Politico) conference in DC, each touching on Iran’s nuclear threat and trying to appeal to pro-Israel voters.

A nuclear Iran with a nuclear shield to project terror around the world is a nightmare for all freedom-loving people in the world,” said Santorum, the only candidate to appear at the conference in person. “If Iran doesn’t get rid of nuclear facilities, we will tear down them ourselves.” Gingrich also took a hard line (CBS) against Iran. “As president, on my first day, undermine and replace the Iranian dictatorship by every available method short of war,” he said appearing via satellite.

Romney, speaking from Massachusetts via satellite, said Iran needs to be sanctioned into capitulation but that he would be ready to take matters further if necessary. “I will make sure Iran knows of the very real peril that awaits if it becomes nuclear,” he said. “As president, I will be ready to engage in diplomacy. But I will be just as ready to engage our military might.” He also stressed his 30-year friendship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which began when both worked for the Boston Consulting Group. “In a Romney administration, there will be no gap between our administration, and there will be no gap between our leaders,” he said. Romney also came out with an op-ed in the Washington Post Tuesday discussing how he would deal with the Iran situation.

Netanyahu had sharp but measured words in his Monday night AIPAC speech, saying he had waited for diplomacy to work but “cannot afford to wait much longer,” while President Obama has continued to stress the need for diplomacy both in his AIPAC speech and his Tuesday press conference.

Those who favor diplomatic measures do seem to be gaining some traction. The five members of the United Nations Security Council announced Tuesday that it will reopen discussions (CBS) on the nuclear program with Tehran, and Iran said nuclear inspectors will be allowed to enter its nuclear compound. The International Atomic Energy Agency postponed a Wednesday meeting (Bloomberg) to give diplomats time to prepare their demands for the Iranians. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Monday shows voters are torn on the issue with 52 percent of those polled favoring military action over doing nothing if Iran is close to developing a nuclear weapon but 49 percent said the United States should either “take no action unless Iran attacks the U.S. or its allies.”

For more on the candidates’ stands, check out CFR’s Issue Trackers on the Candidates on US-Iran Policy and the Candidates on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

Suggested Other Reading:

Crisis Guide: Iran Dive into CFR’s award-winning Crisis Guide: Iran.

This CFR Backgrounder explains the history and possible future of the ever-lengthening list of sanctions imposed on Iran.

CFR Senior Fellows Ray Takeyh and Matthew Kroenig discuss the escalating tension with Iran in this January 2012 Special Briefing.

In this CFR interview, Gary Sick lays out options for Washington to deal with Tehran over its nuclear program amid growing concern in the United States and Israel.

CFR President Richard N. Haass speak on the risks posed by a nuclear-armed Iran and how Washington and its partners must step up activity on economic sanctions and diplomacy while still preparing military options.

—Gayle S. Putrich, Contributing Editor

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