GOP presidential contender Rick Santorum said Tuesday that the U.S. must demand Iran dismantle its nuclear program and destroy it if Tehran refuses.
“If they do not tear down those facilities, we will tear them down ourselves,” Santorum said in a fiery speech delivered at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference.
“This is not bellicosity and warmongering,” he added. “This is preventing the most radical regime in the world from having a weapon that could fundamentally change the security posture” of “all freedom-loving people in the world.”
Santorum also took a swipe at US President Barack Obama, who addressed AIPAC on Sunday, saying he had turned his back on the Jewish state.
“I’ve seen a president who has been reticent,” Santorum said. “He says he has Israel’s back. From everything I’ve seen from the conduct of this administration, he has turned his back on the people of Israel.”
He added, “There is a clear and unfortunate—tragic– disconnects between how leaders of Israel and the United States view the exigency of the situation.”
Obama, who is polling neck-and-neck with both Romney and Santorum in the polls, is perceived as having brought relations with Israel to a startling nadir – exposing a vulnerability GOP candidates can exploit.
US Jewry, while constituting only a fraction of the popular vote, are highly concentrated in key electoral states where previous races have been contested, or won by mere thousands of votes.
Santorum noted that he was appearing in person at the AIPAC convention despite the crucial nature of Tuesday’s Super Tuesday primaries due to the importance of the US relationship with Israel.
Santorum is brawling with Mitt Romney to be the GOP primary front-runner. The contests in Ohio and Pennsylvania could be his last chance to derail the well-funded Romney's campaign.
“This is a somewhat important day in my life today,” Santorum said. “But I wanted to come off the campaign trail to come here, because one of the reasons that I decided to run for president is because of the grave concern I have about the security of our country.”
Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich are addressing the AIPAC convention remotely later Tuesday.