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GOP Candidates Address Iranian Nuclear Issues


NPR's Tom Gjelten watched the debate last night to assess the accuracy of the candidates statements, and he's here now to share that fact checking. Good morning, Tom.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: So, did anything you heard last night jump out as especially in need of having its facts checked?

GJELTEN: There were a bunch of dubious claims, but I'll just highlight one really questionable statement. It came from Michelle Bachmann, and it is something she's said before and has been challenged on - about Iran's intention with respect to nuclear weapons. Here's what she said.

REPRESENTATIVE MICHELE BACHMANN: Iran has announced they plan to strike Israel. They've stated, as recently as August, just before President Ahmadinejad came to the U.N. General Assembly. He said that he wanted to eradicate Israel from the face of the Earth. He has said that if he has a nuclear weapon, he will use it to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth. He will use it against the United States of America.

GJELTEN: And Linda, that statement is just plain incorrect. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the Iranian president, has never said he would use a nuclear weapon against Israel or against the United States. In fact, Iran has said over and over and over again, they have no intention of getting a nuclear weapon. They may well be lying, but that is what they've said.

WERTHEIMER: Iran actually got quite a bit of attention last night. Lots of questions about what candidates could do to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

GJELTEN: Right, Linda. I actually thought it was a fairly interesting discussion. Governor Perry brought up the Iran policy question that is really at the forefront right now. He was asked what sanctions, if any, might work, and here's what he said.

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: We need to sanction the Iranian Central Bank. That would be one of the most powerful ways to impact that, and when you sanction the Iranian Central Bank, that will shut down that economy. At that particular point in time they truly have to deal with the United States.

GJELTEN: In fact that would be a really bold move and some members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, have said they favor it. But what this would mean is that Iran could not sell any of its oil, and a whole lot of oil would therefore come off the global market, the price of oil would skyrocket. That's why the U.S. administration has not moved on that, and there is a lot of opposition to it for that reason. But no one challenged that proposal, none of the candidates disagreed with it.

WERTHEIMER: A lot of attention last night was on the new frontrunner, Newt Gingrich. Now, he prides himself on his knowledge of history and world affairs. How'd he do?

GJELTEN: Well, Gingrich is always quick with an answer, Linda, and he does handle himself very well in these debates. If we just stick with this discussion of Iran a bit longer. He said something again about this issue of whether sanctions that would remove Iranian oil from the global market would simply be too extreme. He argued it could be done and that there was something the United States could do to alleviate the impact.

NEWT GINGRICH: The fact is we ought to have a massive, all-sources energy program in the United States designed to, once again, create a surplus of energy here so we can say to the Europeans, pretty cheerfully, that all the various sources of oil we have in the United States, we could literally replace the Iranian oil. Now that's how we won World War II.

GJELTEN: I was kind of scratching my head at that one. Iran can export about two and a half million barrels a day. The United States right now produces about 9 million barrels a day, so we'd have to see about a 25 percent increase to replace Iran's oil. That's not something that can be done very easily. Also Linda, I wonder how many World War II historians would agree that that is how we won World War II.

WERTHEIMER: There was something else that Governor Perry said, that caught our attention during the discussion of immigration. Let's listen to that.

PERRY: We're seeing countries start to come in and infiltrate. We know that Hamas and Hezbollah are working in Mexico, as well as Iran, with their ploy to come into the United States.

WERTHEIMER: Do, in fact, we know that Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran are working in Mexico?

GJELTEN: Well, there have been some allegations of links between those Middle Eastern groups and the drug cartels that are active in Mexico. Some of that has come out in intelligence reports. Not necessarily that those groups are in Mexico, just that they have connections with the Mexican cartels. It's probably an overstatement to say that countries, Iran or someone else is trying to infiltrate the United States. He might be referring here to the allegation of an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador here, by working through a Mexican drug cartel. By the way, Herman Cain made the statement that terrorists have come into this country by way of Mexico - not true.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Tom Gjelten, thank you very much.

GJELTEN: You bet.


WERTHEIMER: You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's senior national correspondent, Linda Wertheimer travels the country and the globe for NPR News, bringing her unique insights and wealth of experience to bear on the day's top news stories.
Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.