Republican candidates pledge war on Iran over nukes
Republican presidential hopefuls have promised to go to war to stop Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, painting Barack Obama's handling of Tehran as the most serious of a string of overseas failures.
Mitt Romney, the favourite to clinch the party's candidacy, said that he would direct US forces to pre-emptively strike Iran's nuclear facilities if "crippling sanctions" failed to block their ambitions.
"If all else fails, if after all of the work we've done, there's nothing else we could do besides take military action," Mr Romney said at a debate on foreign policy in South Carolina on Saturday.
The former Massachusetts governor's pledge was echoed by Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, who over the weekend rose to second place in some national opinion polls.
"You have to take whatever steps are necessary to break its capacity to have a nuclear weapon," said Mr Gingrich, who also proposed covert actions such as "taking out their scientists", to applause.
Their remarks came at the end of a week of tensions after the UN nuclear watchdog's confirmation that Iran had acquired the expertise and material needed to build its first nuclear weapon.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also acknowledged for the first time that Tehran was conducting secret experiments whose only purpose could be the development of weaponry.
As his potential Republican rivals spoke, Mr Obama was being rebuffed by Presidents Hu Jintao of China and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia as he sought international support for sanctions against Tehran.
Iran insists its nuclear programme is limited to the peaceful production of energy.
Mr Obama's Iran problem was pounced upon by Republicans as evidence that despite overseeing the killing of Osama bin Laden and endorsing NATO intervention in Libya, his foreign policy is weak.
Mr Romney said: "If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. If you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon."
Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, said, meanwhile, that under his presidency, aid to all countries would be reset to "zero dollars", and foreign leaders would have to argue their case anew.
The Republican Jewish Coalition said it hoped Mr Perry's team would "brief their man on the 10-year memorandum of understanding that governs US-Israel funding levels".
Mr Perry later clarified that he expected Israel would receive "substantial" funding.
Aides to Mr Romney, who said during the debate that he agreed with Mr Perry about resetting all aid budgets, stressed that he had not been talking about Israel. (©Daily Telegraph, London)