Palestinians give cool reception to U.S. debate

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Calling Iran the “greatest threat of all,” Romney claimed Iran is “four years closer to a nuclear weapon.”

Obama repeated his position that he will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon and vowed to “stand with Israel” if it is attacked by Iran.

Israel, accusing Iran of developing an atomic bomb, has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran’s nuclear program if it believes international sanctions have failed.

Iran, which says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes, accused the candidates of pandering to Israel.

“The debate was a race between the two candidates to demonstrate their greater devotion to the Zionist regime,” said Iran’s state TV.

Romney also supported Obama’s increased use of drones to target militants in Pakistan’s tribal region — a highly controversial program in Pakistan where people view it as a violation of their sovereignty and as killing innocent civilians — and said he too would have carried out the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

“I think that in substance there was very little to distinguish between the positions taken by the president and MittRomney,” said retired Pakistani diplomat Tariq Fatemi. “It would mean that both political parties, barring some other development, they will pursue the same policy with Pakistan.”

Both also said they oppose direct U.S. military involvement in the civil war in which rebels are fighting to topple Syrian President Bashir Assad. But they disagreed over arming the Syrian opposition.

Obama warned of the risk of giving the rebels heavy weapons that could later be used against the U.S. or its allies. Romney said he would make sure that those trying to oust Assad “have the arms necessary to defend themselves” after being vetted by the U.S.

Romney’s stance won praise from Syria’s political opposition in exile.

Obama is not doing what he is supposed to be doing. By not arming the (rebel) Free Syrian Army with heavy weapons, he is giving Assad the upper hand,” said Muhieddine Lathkani, a member of the Syrian National Council, an umbrella of opposition groups.

In discussing the Egyptian revolution, which swept longtime U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak from power and brought an Islamist president to power, Romney and Obama both voiced caution.

Obama welcomed the democratic transition in Egypt but stressed the need to respect women’s rights and maintain its peace agreement with Israel.

Romney used somewhat tougher language, implying that the election of President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was among “a number of disturbing events.”

Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan sharply criticized Romney, noting Morsi was elected in Egypt’s first democratic election in history.

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