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US Presidential Candidates Speak on CIA Interrogation Tapes, Iran Intelligence

As the U.S. presidential campaign moves toward its first primary season voting in early January, much of the campaign has focused on domestic issues. Candidates have talked about some foreign policy issues, but as VOA's Jim Fry reports, what a presidential candidate says on the campaign trail and what the next president will say once in the White House may not be the same.

The Central Intelligence Agency revealed early this month that it had destroyed interrogation videotapes of two top al-Qaida terrorist suspects.

Republican candidate John McCain was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He often speaks out against the administration's detention policy and reacted strongly to the news. "When tapes are destroyed of interrogations, it contributes enormously to the cynicism, the skepticism and also is further damaging to the image of the United States of America in the world."

But most of the other Republican presidential candidates support the Bush administration's policies toward terrorist suspects.

The Democrats mostly do not, and accuse the administration of civil rights violations. Most want to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba where suspects are held.

When candidates take specific positions on foreign policy, says Max Boot of the private Council on Foreign Relations, foreign audiences should be wary. "Don't pay too much attention to what people are actually saying in the middle of a presidential campaign. It often has little relation to what they would wind up doing once in office."

Boot says U.S. foreign policy is dominated more by continuity than change from one presidential administration to another.

Yet, Peter Beinert, another expert from the think tank, disagrees. "Max is undoubtedly right, that American foreign policy responds to events, to big events. And he's also right that there are strong themes and traditions that run through American foreign policy. But I also think events don't simply explain themselves. Events have to be interpreted."

For example, the latest U.S. intelligence estimate that says that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 drew different reactions from candidates. A Democrat equated President Bush's earlier warning that Iran poses a danger to false prewar claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Senator Joseph Biden said, "They're a real problem. But are they a World War III problem? Is there a likelihood of a nuclear cataclysmic exchange? Are they on the verge of getting nuclear weapons? This has a strange echo of Iraq -- a strange echo -- same kind of malarkey [foolish talk]."

Republican candidates mostly backed the administration's tough line, focusing on the conclusion that Iran could still develop nuclear weapons. Candidate and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said, "The option of this government should be that we don't take any option off the table and we keep the pressure on them."

Former Senator Fred Thompson said, "Not only is Iran probably the major long term threat to our country, whether or not they have a nuclear capability or a nuclear program, is the most important part of the Iran consideration."

Candidates for the major party nominations face voters for the first time in early January, when Iowa conducts its presidential caucuses and New Hampshire its primary election.