WASHINGTON, Oct 16 (Reuters) Appealing to Jewish voters, Republican presidential hopefuls today vowed to take military action if necessary to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and threatening Israel.
Speaking at the Republican Jewish Coalition's candidates forum, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who leads the field for the Republican nomination, urged tighter sanctions to isolate Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and said emphasizing a military option would lessen the chance of war.
''It is absolutely necessary that we are clear that the military option is not off the table,'' Giuliani said. ''If America is clear that we will exercise the military option if we have to, the chances of having to do that decline.'' Giuliani was one of five candidates for the Republican nomination in the 2008 presidential race to speak before the group in hopes of winning support from Jewish voters.
Jews have have traditionally voted overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates, but the coalition, formed in 1985, aims to bring together Jewish Republicans. Israel's security has typically been a leading concern among Jewish voters.
Giuliani also scoffed at suggestions by Democratic White House candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama that they would hold unconditional talks with Tehran.
''You cannot negotiate with someone who is threatening to destroy you and your family,'' he said. ''This is the great fallacy in this now very strong Democratic desire to negotiate, negotiate, and negotiate, you've got to know with whom to negotiate and with whom you should not negotiate.'' The United States and other Western countries fear Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of a peaceful nuclear energy program. Iran denies it wants nuclear weapons.
Washington and Tehran also are at odds over Iraq, where US officials say Iranian agents are giving deadly training and technology to insurgents. Iran denies those charges too.
The UN Security Council has passed two resolutions sanctioning Iran for failing to halt uranium enrichment. World powers have agreed to delay further sanctions until November to see if Iran's agreement with UN nuclear inspectors to clear up questions about its program yields results.
SABRE RATTLING? Arizona Sen John McCain, who has been trailing the top tier of Republican presidential hopefuls, cited an Israeli air strike a month ago on a Syrian facility that reportedly was related to nuclear weapons development as one of the dangers of proliferation.
''I'm not worried about Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon and putting it on a missile, I'm very worried about Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and giving it to terrorist organizations,'' he said.
Democrats accused the Republicans of saber-rattling. ''If we are genuinely worried about Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, we should engage in real talks,'' Tom Andrews, head of the Win Without War group and a former Democratic lawmaker from Maine, said in a statement.
Still, former Massachusetts Gov Mitt Romney, who leads in Republican polls in the early primary voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, said he would also prevent Iran from threatening Israel's existence as well as toughen sanctions.
''It's time for Democrats to break their silence and answer this question: Will you act to stop a nuclear Iran,'' he said.
''Let me assure you, I will.'' REUTERS CS BST0334