Iran proved to be the sole flashpoint in an otherwise muted debate between US Democratic presidential hopefuls, as contenders weighed what Washington’s response should be to an Iranian nuclear weapons program. US Senator Barack Obama said that while it would be a “profound mistake” to pick a fight with Tehran, Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons would be “a major threat to us and to the region.”
“If we have nuclear proliferators around the world that potentially can place a nuclear weapon into the hands of terrorists, that is a profound security threat for America and one that we have to take seriously,” said Obama in the televised debate between eight Democratic contenders for the White House.
Obama also took a tough line on dealing with terrorism generally.
“We have genuine enemies out there that have to be hunted down, networks have to be dismantled. There is no contradiction between us intelligently using our military and, in some cases, lethal force to take out terrorists,” Obama said.
But House Representative Dennis Kucinich criticized what he viewed as Obama’s bellicose approach for dealing with Iran, with the United States still smarting from military setbacks in Iraq.
“You previously said that all options are on the table with respect to Iran. And I think that it’s important for people to reflect on the real meaning of that, that you’re setting the stage for another war,” Kucinich said.
Mike Gravel, a former US senator from Alaska, said he was also taken aback by his rival contenders’ apparent unwillingness to rule out attacking Iran.
“When you have mainline candidates that turn around and say that there’s nothing off the table with respect to Iran, that’s code for using nukes, nuclear devices,” he said.
“Some of these people frighten me,” Gravel said of fellow candidates.
Senator Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic contender in public opinion polls and Obama’s main rival, remained silent during the exchange on Iran.
It was the first televised debate of the 2008 campaign, more than 18 months before the November 4, 2008 election to pick a successor to Republican President George W. Bush.