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Candidates pledge Israel backing, agree Iran strike 'last resort'

WASHINGTON/BOCA RATON -- U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney vied on Monday over who was Israel's strongest defender but both agreed that a military strike over Iran's nuclear program must be a “last resort.”

Tehran's nuclear program, which the West suspects is for developing weapons and that economic sanctions have so far failed to stop, is almost certain to be among the top foreign policy challenges facing the next president.

Yet Romney and Obama, in their foreign policy debate, did not offer sharply contrasting policies to address the challenge. They agreed on the need for tough economic pressure — and for safeguarding U.S. ally Israel.

“If Israel is attacked, we have their back, not just diplomatically, not just culturally, but militarily,” Romney said.

“I will stand with Israel if they are attacked,” Obama said.

Iran's leaders have from time to time threatened to eradicate Israel. Israel has its own undeclared nuclear arsenal.

The candidates did not say what they would do if Israel conducted a unilateral strike on Iran, and at one point Romney brushed aside a hypothetical question on what he would do if the Israeli prime minister called to inform him Israel's bombers were en route to strike Iran's nuclear facilities.

Obama Denies 'Apology Tour'

Romney said Obama had “wasted four years” by allowing Iran to operate nuclear centrifuges unhindered, and repeated his charge that the incumbent had toured the Muslim world to “apologize” for U.S. values he should have defended. Obama called the accusation the “biggest whopper” of the campaign.

“The reason I call it an apology tour is because you went to the Middle East and you flew to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia and to Turkey and Iraq. And by way, you skipped Israel, our closest friend in the region,” he said

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U.S. President Barack Obama, right, greets Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, left, following the third and final presidential debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, Monday, Oct. 22. (AFP)

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