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US Republican Presidential Hopefuls Debate Iran's Nuclear Capability

Concern about Iran's nuclear weapons capabilities continues to be a hot topic of debate in the early stage of the U.S. presidential election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

The latest example came during a debate among Republican presidential contenders held in the early primary state of New Hampshire and broadcast on the Fox News Channel.

The eight Republicans taking part were asked to react to a hypothetical scenario in which Iran appeared to be on the verge of producing nuclear weapons and had just asked international weapons inspectors to leave the country.

Most of the candidates said the United States and its allies must do what they can to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

"At the end of the day, we cannot allow Iran to have nuclear weapons. Iranians are sending lethal IED's [improvised explosive devices] that are killing American soldiers. They are training and equipping terrorists. They have dedicated themselves to the destruction of the state of Israel," said Arizona Senator John McCain.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said his fear is that Iran might transfer nuclear weapons to terrorist organizations.

"They are giving them armaments right now. They are giving them money right now. So, America has to have a clear position. The position should be that Iran is not going to be allowed to go nuclear," he said.

Kansas Senator Sam Brownback said it would be up to the president in such a situation to win the support of the American public and Congress for the authority to use military force.

"The number one purpose is to go after the military forces being developed on the ground and trained on the ground in Iran to attack our people in Iraq. And number two, towards the nuclear weapons development program that the Iranians are working on," he said.

The only dissenter among the eight contenders in the debate was Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who favors a more diplomatic approach.

"I would say that we should go very cautiously. We should back off. We should be talking to Iran right now. We should not be looking for the opportunity to attack them," he said.

Congressman Paul is also the only one of the nine declared Republican presidential candidates who opposes the war in Iraq.

The ninth Republican contender, former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, did not take part in the debate.

Iran has also come up as an issue in debates involving the Democratic presidential contenders. Some Democrats have indicated they would be open to intensifying diplomatic efforts with Iran over its nuclear program. But several of the Democratic candidates have also said they would not rule out the use of military force if Iran continued to build a nuclear weapons capability.