U.S. presidential contenders show support to Israel; Romney says Israel to be 1st trip as president

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Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney on Tuesday touted his commitment to Israel, pledging that if elected U.S. president his first international trip would be to the Jewish state.

“The right course for (us on) Israel is to show that we care about Israel, they are our friend, we’ll stick with them,” Romney said in a foreign policy debate with rivals seeking next year’s Republican presidential nomination, according to AFP.

“If I’m president of the United States, my first trip, my first foreign trip will be to Israel to show the world we care about that country and that region.”

Romney’s pledge strays from the traditional choice for U.S. presidents of making a first trip to either Canada or Mexico, America’s immediate neighbors.

Candidates were asked at the CNN-moderated debate at DAR Constitution Hall, just a few blocks from the White House, about Israel and Iran amid growing concern about Tehran’s alleged quest for a nuclear weapon and feverish speculation that Israel might be considering a preemptive strike on its atomic sites.

The rivals were at odds about how they would react as U.S. president in the event of such a strike by Israel.

“Depending on how strong the plan is, we would join with Israel for that if it was clear what the mission was and it was clear what the definition of victory was,” said former pizza executive Herman Cain, whose campaign has hit the buffers after foreign policy gaffes and sexual harassment allegations.

Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann warned that Israel was gravely imperiled by Iran’s deeds and attacked President Barack Obama for letting his “doctrine of appeasement” bear dangerous fruit.

“They’ve stated as recently as August, just before President (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad came to the U.N. General Assembly, he said that he wanted to eradicate Israel from the face of the earth,” Bachmann said.

“He has said that if he has a nuclear weapon, he will use it to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. He will use it against the United States of America. This isn’t just an idle threat. This is a reality,” she said.

Obama “has changed the course of history because at the time when we needed a leader most, we didn’t have one. That’s what I’ll do differently as president of the United States. I’ll lead.”

Texas Congressman Ron Paul, a libertarian who has campaigned on bringing U.S. troops home from just about every foreign theater, be it Afghanistan, South Korea or the Middle East, said Israel ought to fend for itself.

“We tell them what they can do because we buy their allegiance and they sacrifice their sovereignty to us. Then they decide they want to bomb something, that’s their business, but they should suffer the consequences,” Paul said bluntly.

Republican contenders attacked President Obama on Iran’s steps toward a nuclear weapon, calling for aggressive action from supporting an Israeli attack to imposing crushing sanctions that risk higher oil prices.

Gingrich said that no bombing campaign in Iran that leaves the regime in place would be useful.

“Replacing the regime before they get a nuclear weapon without a war beats replacing the regime with war, which beats allowing them to have a nuclear weapon,” said Gingrich.

Romney said sanctions on Iran, which were stepped up this week by Obama, should be still tougher even if it crippled Iran’s oil industry.

“I know it’s going to make gasoline more expensive,” he said. “There’s no price that is worth an Iranian nuclear weapon.”

The Obama administration on Tuesday expanded measures aimed at thwarting Iran’s nuclear program, targeting its the banking system and oil industry with actions intended to cut the regime off from international financial transactions.

The measures, coordinated with sanctions by the UK and Canada, are in response to a Nov. 8 report by the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency which cited evidence pointing to clandestine nuclear weapons development activities by Iran.

On the subject of terrorism, Gingrich said that “the U.S. must strengthen tools to detect and prevent threats because all of us will be in danger for the rest of our lives.”