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Republicans Criticize Obama on Iran at Pro-Israel Group

March 6 (Bloomberg) -- Three Republican presidential candidates criticized President Barack Obama on Iran, saying they would be more forceful in stopping the government in Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.

Rick Santorum, addressing the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee today in Washington, said Obama has “been reticent” in his efforts.

“He says he has Israel’s back,” said Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania. “From everything I’ve seen, he has turned his back on the people of Israel.”

Speaking later by satellite to the group, Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, said he would “bring the current policy of procrastination to an end.”

“Hope is not a foreign policy,” Romney said. “The only thing respected by thugs and tyrants is our resolve.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, also addressing the group by satellite, said in his administration, “we would not keep talking while the Iranians keep building.”

He said the “red line” was not when Iran was ready to detonate a nuclear bomb. “The red line is now” because the Iranians are “deepening their commitment to nuclear weapons while we talk,” Gingrich said. “It is an unacceptable risk.”

The three candidates turned their attention from the states voting in today’s Super Tuesday nominating contests to address the gathering of the pro-Israel lobbying group.

‘Bluster’

Obama, at a news conference in Washington, said the candidates are talking with “a lot of bluster” without having the responsibilities of commander in chief.

“These folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities,” the president said. He said he was struck by the “casualness” of the way his political opponents talk about war. “I’m reminded of the costs involved in war.”

Obama said the Iranian situation “can still be resolved diplomatically” as the U.S. has been able to “mobilize unprecedented, crippling sanctions.” Obama made similar comments to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday. Netanyahu today is wrapping up a five-day trip to the U.S. and Canada.

Also today, the European Union offered to meet with Iranian officials over the country’s nuclear program in a response to Tehran’s overture last month to restart talks.

At the Aipac conference in Washington, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said “‘we’ll keep all options, including military action, on the table to prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

In his address to the group March 4, Obama said the U.S. relationship with Israel was too important to be “distorted” by partisan politics and that statements that he hasn’t fully supported Israel are “not backed up by the facts.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan D. Salant in Washington at jsalant@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net.

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