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October 22. 2012 11:35PM

Syria, Iran loom large in final presidential face-off


Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney listens as President Barack Obama makes a point during the final presidential debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida on Monday night. Bob Schieffer was the moderator. (Robert Duyos/Sun Sentinel/MCT)

Disagreements over foreign policy turned into pointed jabs early in the third and final Presidential debate Monday at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

The debate between President Barack Obama and his Republican rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, focused on foreign policy issues including the Middle East, events in Syria and Libya and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama said Romney identified Russia as the worst geopolitical threat facing the United States, rather than al-Qaida.

“The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War has been over for 20 years,” Obama said. “Every time you’ve offered an opinion, you’ve been wrong.”

Romney countered by telling the President that he identified Russia as a geopolitical threat, but Iran as the worst national security threat and that he wouldn’t view Russia through “rose-colored glasses.”

He referenced the President’s comments to former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, which were private but caught by microphones, that he would have more flexibility on the issue of missile defense after the election.

“I’m certainly not going to tell (Russian President Vladmir Putin) that I’m going to have more flexibility after the election,” Romney said. “I’m going to tell him that he’s going to get more backbone.”

Obama criticized many of Romney’s stated positions, saying the former Massachusetts governor has never “had the chance” to serve as commander-in-chief. Romney countered by saying that Obama doesn’t have concrete plans.

“Attacking me is not an agenda,” Romney said. “Attacking me is not talking about how we’re dealing with the challenges that exist in the Middle East and taking advantage of the opportunities there and stemming the tide of violence.”

The stakes were high in the 90-minute encounter moderated by CBS News’ Bob Schieffer.

The two candidates were tied at 46 percent each in the Reuters/Ipsos online daily tracking poll. Other surveys show a similar picture.

Some quotes from Monday night’s debate:

-- Romney on Islamist extremism: “We can’t kill our way out of this mess. We’re going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the world of Islam and other parts of the world to reject this radical violent extremism.”

“The key that we’re going to have to pursue as a pathway is to get the Muslim world to be able reject extremism on its own.”

-- Obama on Romney’s policies: “When it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s.”

“What we need to do with respect to the Middle East is strong and steady leadership, not wrong and reckless leadership that is all over the map, and unfortunately that’s the kind of opinions that you’ve offered throughout the campaign and it is not a recipe for American strength.”

Information from Reuters was used in this report.


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