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October 23, 2012

Foreign policy fireworks: Face-off before election

BOCA RATON, Fla. — President Barack Obama sharply challenged Mitt Romney on foreign policy in their final campaign debate Monday night, accusing him of “wrong and reckless leadership that is all over the map.” The Republican coolly responded, “Attacking me is not an agenda” for dealing with a dangerous world.

With just 15 days remaining in an impossibly close race for the White House, Romney took the offensive, too. When Obama said the U.S. and its allies have imposed crippling sanctions on Iran to halt nuclear weapons development, the Republican challenger responded that the U.S. should have done more. He declared repeatedly, “We’re four years closer to a nuclear Iran.”

Though their third and last face-to-face debate was focused on foreign affairs, both men reprised their campaign-long disagreements over the U.S. economy — the top issue by far in opinion polls — as well as energy, education and other domestic issues.

The two men did find accord on more than one occasion when it came to foreign policy.

Each stressed unequivocal support for Israel when asked about a U.S. response if the Jewish state were attacked by Iran.

“If Israel is attacked, we have their back,” said Romney — moments after Obama vowed, “I will stand with Israel if Israel is attacked.”

Both also said they oppose direct U.S. military involvement in the efforts to topple Syrian President Bashir Assad.

The debate produced none of the finger-pointing and little of the interrupting that marked the presidential rivals’ debate last week, when Obama needed a comeback after a listless performance in their first meeting on Oct. 3.

The final debate behind them, both men are embarking on a home-stretch whirlwind of campaigning. The president is slated to speak in six states during a two-day trip that begins Wednesday and includes a night aboard Air force One as it flies from Las Vegas to Tampa. Romney intends to visit two or three states a day.

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