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Republicans and Democrats Debate Before First US Presidential Primary


Republicans and Democrats seeking their party's U.S. presidential nomination have debated important foreign policy issues, just days before the nation's first presidential primary in New Hampshire. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has details of the debate from Manchester, New Hampshire.

The nationally-televised debate at St. Anselm's College in Manchester was split into two 90-minute forums.

The Republicans came first and immediately tangled on issues of foreign policy and the war on terror.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney attacked former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee for writing in Foreign Policy magazine that some of the Bush administration's policies reflected what Huckabee called an arrogant, bunker mentality.

Romney said, "You need a thorough understanding of what radical jihad is, what the movement is, what its intent is, where it flows from and the fact is that it is trying to bring down not just us, but it is trying to bring down all moderate, Islamic governments, Western governments around the world as we just saw in Pakistan. But let us step back with regards to the president. The president is not arrogant. The president is not subject to a bunker mentality."

Huckabee, who surprised many analysts by winning the recent Iowa caucuses, but trails Romney and Arizona Senator John McCain in recent polls in New Hampshire, said he will have his own foreign policy if elected president.

"I am not a person who is out there taking cheap shots at the president," he said. "I worked really hard to get him elected. But I am not running for George Bush's third term. I want to be President of the United States on my own terms."

Senator McCain, who is now leading the Republican pack, according to the latest public opinion surveys in New Hampshire, said America's security has improved since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

"America is safer. America is not safe, America is safer. I would like to give the president some credit for that," he said.

The Republican candidates also tangled over issues such as illegal immigration and health care.

In an extraordinary moment between the debates, the major Democratic candidates for president joined the Republicans for handshakes and hugs.

The photo opportunity was designed to show that whoever wins the race, he or she will have the support of the American people.

The Democrats also debated foreign policy and comments by Illinois Senator Barack Obama that the U.S. should launch a military strike against terrorist Osama bin Laden if he is found hiding in Pakistan.

Obama, who was the top Democrat in the Iowa caucuses and who is tied with New York Senator Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire surveys, says he stands by the statement.

"We have to press them [Pakistan] to do more to take on al-Qaida in their territory," he said. "What I said was, if they could not or would not do so and we had actionable intelligence, then I would strike."

Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, who edged out Clinton for second place in Iowa and is running third in New Hampshire polls, agreed.

"If I was president of the United States, and knew where Osama bin Laden is, I would go get him, period," he said.

Senator Clinton, who is trying to recover from her third place finish in Iowa, said regional considerations need to be understood if a strike against bin Laden is initiated.

"At some point, probably when the missiles have been launched, the Pakistani government has to know they are on the way because one of the problems is the inherent paranoia about India," she said.

The Democrats also discussed how they would end the war in Iraq and who has the best experience to change current policies in Washington.

The debate came just days before the voting begins in New Hampshire, the state that conducts America's first presidential primary.

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