CONSHOHOCKEN, Pennsylvania (AFP) — Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton threatened to "totally obliterate" Iran if the Islamic Republic was ever "reckless" enough to launch a nuclear attack on Israel.
She later said her remark was an attempt to lay out a rationale for a Cold War-style system of deterrence with Iran, but her rival Barack Obama accused her of saber-rattling, as Pennsylvania held its crucial presidential primary.
Clinton took her hawkish line in an interview with ABC television, when she was asked what she would do as president if the Islamic Republic were to launch a nuclear strike on Israel.
"I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran," Clinton said.
"In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them."
Later, Clinton told reporters at a polling station in Conshohocken, outside Philadelphia, that Iran must be made aware of the "high price" it would have to pay for any nuclear strike.
If Iran were so "reckless to use them against the United States or an ally in a way that would destablize the world, they would have to take the consequences," she said.
The New York senator said as president, she would first do whatever she could to prevent Iran manufacturing nuclear weapons in the first place.
Clinton's tough talk came as she was trying to portray Obama, a first-term senator, as too inexperienced to shoulder the heavy responsibilities of the US president and commander in chief of the armed forces.
But he said Tehran needed to know he would also respond forcefully to any such attack, but took issue with Clinton's approach.
"I think that one of the things that we've seen over the last several years is a bunch of, you know, talk. Using words like obliterate doesn't actually produce good results. And so I'm not interested in saber rattling."
Implying that Clinton was now using national security arguments for political advantage, the Obama campaign pointed out that she declined in a debate last October to speculate on such military action.
But the former first lady denied her remarks were politically motivated.
"Iran is feeling quite powerful, they have been empowered by the actions of the last seven years and they must know there are lines that the world will not let them cross," Clinton said.
The State Department would not comment on Clinton's remarks, in line with its policy of keeping out of partisan politics, but deputy spokesman Tom Casey pledged Washington would pursue a peaceful path out of the nuclear showdown with Iran.
"Our approach on this is to prevent Iran from ever getting a nuclear weapon so that no one will ever be faced with the scenario of Iran being able to threaten its use or use it against any neighboring state."
Obama's camp Monday accused Clinton of trying to scare voters, as she rocked their White House race with a dark campaign ad featuring images of Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden.
The ad uses pictures of Pearl Harbor, bin Laden and the devastating 2005 hurricane that swamped New Orleans, mirroring the "3:00 am phone call" spot credited with helping Clinton to win in Texas and Ohio last month.
"You need to be ready for anything -- especially now, with two wars, oil prices skyrocketing and an economy in crisis," the male narrator intones. "Who do you think has what it takes?"
Both Democrats have vowed to defend Israel against any Iranian attack, but they differ on how to engage the Islamic republic over its nuclear ambitions.
Both call for diplomacy, but Obama has gone further, renewing a promise of "direct talks" at a leaders' level with Tehran and others the United States regards as foes, at a candidate debate here last week.
Iran should be presented with "carrots and sticks," the Illinois senator said, while stressing "they should also know that I will take no options off the table when it comes to preventing them from using nuclear weapons or obtaining nuclear weapons."
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »