The Washington Times - December 7, 2011, 10:47AM

GOP presidential contender Rick Santorum said Wednesday that the United States government must do whatever it takes to ensure that Iranian leaders do not develop the capacity to develop a nuclear weapon.

“We have to stop them,” the former Pennsylvania senator said at a Washington gathering of Jewish Republicans. “We have to make it very clear to Iran that the United States will stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Period.”

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Speaking at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s 2012 presidential forum, Mr. Santorum called for a combination of U.S. assistance for the anti-government movements in Iran and sanctions aimed at crippling their economy and oil supply. He also called for conducting covert operations aimed at stopping the Iranian nuclear program, though Tehran’s leaders contend their nuclear program is for civilian energy uses only.

“We need to be clear,” Mr. Santorum said. “Any foreign scientist working in Iran on this nuclear program will be termed an enemy combatant and will be subject to, like any other enemy combatant, like Osama bin Laden, to be taken out by the United States government.”

The remarks followed a November report from the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency warning that Iran was conducting secret experiments “relevant to the development of a nuclear device.”

Mr. Santorum was the first of six Republicans scheduled to address the RJC’s presidential forum in Washington. He continues to trail in the polls, though he’s hoping his hawkish military views and strong credentials on social issues will play well in Iowa, where social conservatives play a large role in the Jan. 3 caucuses that kick off the nomination process.