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    US Presidential Candidates Fire Verbal Assaults at Iran

    Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney shakes hands as he campaigns during a town hall style meeting in Manchester, N.H., Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
    Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney shakes hands as he campaigns during a town hall style meeting in Manchester, N.H., Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
    Meredith Buel

    Republican candidates competing for their party’s U.S. presidential nomination are firing verbal assaults at Iran, amid new tensions in the Persian Gulf.

    Iran’s military has sharply escalated its tone toward the United States, as new economic sanctions appear to be taking a major toll on the country’s economy.

    Iran recently completed naval exercises near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a key transport route for Persian Gulf oil.

    Tehran is threatening to disrupt naval traffic through the strait if Western powers impose sanctions on Iran’s oil exports.

    Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is critical of the Obama administration’s policies on Iran.

    “He failed to put in place crippling sanctions. He failed to stand with the dissidents in Iran when they took to the streets. And he’s failed to put in place credible plans, military options to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon,“ Romney said.

    Western nations accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of its civilian energy program, a charge Tehran denies.

    “And I would be saying to the Iranians: you either open up those facilities, you begin to dismantle them and make them available to inspectors or we will degrade those facilities through air strikes and make it very public that we are doing that,” said Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

    Analysts say that despite the Republicans’ tough rhetoric on Iran, their positions are not much different from current U.S. policy.

    “So there’s a lot of pounding the table and identifying the threat.  There’s very little discussion about what exactly will be done,” said James Lindsay of the Council on Foreign Relations.

    Not all the Republican candidates favor military action against Iran.

    “I think if we overreact and participate in bombing Iran, we’re looking for a lot more trouble,” said Congressman and anti-war advocate Ron Paul.

    Analysts say presidential candidates frequently use foreign policy issues to demonstrate strength by saying they are willing to use America’s military might to accomplish goals overseas.

    “Iran is an unknown and we don’t know what their nuclear capacity is.  We don’t know what they are actually going to do and we don’t know what the future will hold.  So it provides a good opportunity for the Republican candidates to stake out hypothetical positions and try to convince voters,” said Jennifer Lawless, who teaches politics at American University.

    Still, some Iranian-Americans say the Republicans’ sharp remarks are reckless.

    “What bellicosity, what sabre rattling gets you is this self-fulfilling prophecy where we are talking about military options, we are talking about war,” said Jamal Abdi, the policy director for the National Iranian American Council.

    Abdi hopes American policy on Iran will turn away from tougher sanctions and toward negotiations, a move he concedes is unlikely in an election year.

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