(SIOUX CITY, IOWA) — Ron Paul told Iowa voters on Friday that he would not launch a preemptive strike on Iran because “they don’t threaten our national security.”
“If some other country thought they had to go to war with them, that is their business,” he said, adding there is no proof Iran is building a nuclear weapon.
A recent IAEA report said that Iran’s pursuit of nuclear technology over several years could be consistent with the building of a bomb. And Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta gave Iran “about a year, perhaps a little less” before it could have a nuclear weapon.
Paul’s position on Iran is one that has drawn criticism from his GOP rivals.
On Friday, Paul was responding to a question from an Iowa voter who asked the Texas Congressman whether he could conceive of a situation where he would preemptively declare war on a country.
Paul admitted that the president does need the consent of Congress to declare war, but did say, “If battleships are off our shore, an imminent attack, the president has an obligation to respond.”
But in the case of Iran, Paul provoked his rivals and exclaimed, “they can’t even produce enough gasoline for their automobiles.”
With his bump in the polls, Paul’s GOP opponents, who see national defense as his weakness, have hit hard this week.
“Ron Paul thinks it would be fine if the Iranians obtained nuclear weapons,” Michele Bachmann said.
“You don’t have to vote for a candidate who will allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon to wipe Israel off the face of the earth,” echoed Rick Perry.
“One of the people running for president thinks it’s O.K. for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. I don’t,” said Mitt Romney.
Paul admitted on Friday that the criticism “baffles me a whole lot,” adding what is dangerous is endless wars and expanding government.
Ron Paul placed second in support among Iowa voters in the latest NBC News-Marist University polls; he came in at 21%, with Romney at 23%.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio
Chandrika Narayan and Steve Almasy, CNN
Ben Westcott, CNN
Marisa Russell, CNN