Reuters: Republican presidential hopefuls leapt on Thursday to show their willingness to challenge Iran after an incident between the two countries in a critical Gulf waterway for crude oil. By Jeremy Pelofsky
MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina (Reuters) – Republican presidential hopefuls leapt on Thursday to show their willingness to challenge Iran after an incident between the two countries in a critical Gulf waterway for crude oil.
At the same time, the candidates declined to second-guess the U.S. commanders who, according to American accounts, held their fire against Iranian speedboats that they said threatened to attack three U.S. Navy ships before turning away.
“I think an incident like this reminds us that we shouldn’t be lulled into some false sense of confidence about Iran,” former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said during the Fox News Channel debate. “We have to be very focused on the fact that Iran should not be allowed to become a nuclear power.”
Washington has accused Tehran of trying to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear energy program and interfering in Iraq, which Iran denies. But that has led to escalating tensions between the two countries.
This latest incident occurred in the Strait of Hormuz, arguably the most prominent “choke point” in the global crude oil trade, which handles 17 million barrels per day of water-borne crude oil, over a third of total global shipments.
“I believe it was a very serious act,” former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said. “And the Iranians continue to take acts like this, it points out that we have in Iran a very troubled nation.”
The tough words about Iran by the Republican hopefuls came in South Carolina, a state home to numerous military bases that will hold its nominating contest on January 19. The general election will be held November 4.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, winner in last week’s Iowa caucuses and a Baptist preacher who has been criticized for having limited foreign policy experience, said Iran and other countries should not just expect a limited response from the United States if attacked.
“Be prepared, first, to put your sights on the American vessel. And then be prepared that the next things you see will be the gates of Hell, because that is exactly what you will see after that,” he said.
Rep. Ron Paul, a staunch Iraq war opponent who has been unable to break into the top tier in opinion polls despite strong fund-raising, said he believed his presidential rivals were unnecessarily ratcheting up war rhetoric.
“I would certainly urge a lot more caution than I’m hearing here tonight,” he said. “This incident should not be thrown out of proportion to the point where we’re getting ready to attack Iran over this.”
(Editing by David Alexander)
(For more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters “Tales from the Trail: 2008” online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)