(WASHINGTON) — Contenders for the GOP nomination spent the morning of Super Tuesday breaking away from social issues and the economy to thwack President Obama on his approach to Israel and Iran, telling a Jewish audience that the president had abandoned Jerusalem.
“The current administration has distanced itself from Israel and visibly warmed to the Palestinian cause,” Mitt Romney, the current Republican front-runner, told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
“As I’ve sat and watched this play out on the world stage, I have seen a president who has been reticent,” said Rick Santorum, the runner-up. “He says he has Israel’s back. From everything I’ve seen from the conduct of this administration, he has turned his back on the people of Israel.”
Foreign policy had been mostly sidelined in the Republican presidential contest as the candidates debated abortion, birth control, their ties to Washington, their roles at businesses and mortgage companies, and dozens of other matters.
But the candidates, who spoke Tuesday through video, found a sweet spot with foreign policy-focused Republicans on Iran, suggesting that Obama had nearly allowed the Islamic regime feared by many conservatives to get a nuclear weapon.
“This president not only dawdled in imposing crippling sanctions. He has opposed them,” Romney said in his speech on Tuesday.
The Obama administration has thrown a series of sanctions at Iran. In a defensive memo, the Obama campaign argued that the president’s measures aimed at Iran’s financial system were the most severe sanctions Iran has ever faced.
“Iranian leaders have had to publicly acknowledge that these sanctions have severely weakened their economy,” the document read.
The Democratic National Committee anticipated Romney’s claim to the pro-Israel lobby and prepared an online video that included clips of Obama telling AIPAC on Sunday that he, like Romney, would try to prevent Iran from going nuclear.
The Romney campaign challenged Obama’s account on sanctions, pointing to the administration’s opposition to legislation that eventually passed and sanctioned Iran’s bank and oil industries.
Santorum accused Obama of misleading the public on how serious a nuclear-armed Iran would be. He cited “the insincerity of our leaders in telling the truth to the American public about what is actually going on in the American public today.”
“If Iran doesn’t get rid of nuclear facilities, we will tear them down ourselves,” Santorum said.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Joe Sterling and Darran Simon, CNN
Ray Sanchez, Zayn Nabbi, Euan McKirdy and Angela Dewan, CNN
Eliza Mackintosh, CNN
Samantha Beech, CNN