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“And of course, a military action is the last resort. It is something one would only … consider if all of the other avenues had been … tried to their full extent,” he said.
Romney pressed his campaign’s argument that Obama has been an insufficient friend to Israel, and criticized the president for not visiting the country since he has been in the White House.
Clearly annoyed, Obama criticized Romney for taking fundraisers on a summer trip to Israel and said that on his own trip as a presidential candidate, he visited the Israeli city of Sderot, a frequent target of missiles launched from the Gaza Strip by the militant group Hamas.
The result, he said, was his administration’s funding support for an Israeli missile defense system called Iron Dome.
Rick “Ozzie” Nelson, an international security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the foreign policy debate was “underwhelming” and the candidates kept switching to domestic policies.
“I thought they both were saying the same thing on Iran. Their policies didn’t differ very much,” Nelson said. “I didn’t see anything different about their policy in Iran, particularly their policy regarding Israel as well. They were in sync on that.”
Obama bluntly said newspaper reports that Iran and the United States had agreed to hold bilateral talks on Tehran’s nuclear program were not true.
Iran has also denied that bilateral negotiations on its nuclear program had been scheduled.
The United States and other Western powers say Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at developing nuclear weapons, but Tehran says the purpose is purely peaceful.
On Syria, Romney tried to put Obama on the defensive by saying the administration has not led in the crisis in which thousands of Syrians have died and President Bashar al-Assad remains in power.
“What I’m afraid of is, we’ve watched over the past year or so, first the president saying, well, we’ll let the U.N. deal with it,” Romney said. “We should be playing the leadership role there.”
The United States should work with partners to organize the Syrian opposition and “make sure they have the arms necessary to defend themselves,” he said.
“I am confident that Assad’s days are numbered,” Obama said. “But what we can’t do is to simply suggest that, as Governor Romney at times has suggested, that giving heavy weapons, for example, to the Syrian opposition is a simple proposition that would lead us to be safer over the long term.”