Ahead of Monday night’s third and final debate, which will focus on foreign policy, the Romney campaign is emphasizing diplomacy to curtail Iran's nuclear program, shifting away from more hawkish rhetoric.
Romney campaign spokesman Dan Senor said he would not rule out military strikes, but heavily emphasized a diplomatic solution.
“No one wants to take military action—it has to be a comprehensive strategy,” Senor said on NBC’s Today. “We should use a range of tools in our tool kit in achieving that diplomatic outcome. Gov. Romney won't rule anything out.”
Continuing, Senor repeatedly emphasized diplomacy, saying the negotiating process needs someone new at the table.
“I think a lot of Americans would believe he would probably be the better guy to be at the negotiating table on behalf of the United States than President Obama, given that we are four years closer today to Iran having a nuclear weapon than when President Obama took over,” Senor said.
Over the weekend, The New York Times reported the U.S. and Iran had agreed to start negotiations over the country’s nuclear program, though the White House denied the report.
Although she stood by the White House in denying that such a deal was in the works, Obama spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said the president was open to talks with the Persian state, which she says has been “crippled to its knees” by sanctions put in place by the Obama administration and other Western nations
“[We are] working with our global partners to put pressure on Iran—it is having real results,” Cutter said on NBC’s Today. “The president has always said he would be open to one-on-one talks but not allow Iran to use that to delay putting an end to their nuclear program.
The shift by the Romney campaign away from military action was most visible on Sept. 28, where he told reporters that military action may not be needed with Iran, which was a contrast to his previous statements.
“I do not believe that in the final analysis we will have to use military action” he said, according to The Washington Post. “I certainly hope we don’t have to. I can’t take that option off the table.”
In previous national security speeches, Romney backed unilateral military strikes by the Israelis. This shift could have happened after he started receiving classified national security briefings on Sept. 17. Senor, though, would not comment during his appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on any change in position since Romney began receiving briefings.
The two campaigns also clashed over the terrorist attack in Libya, as the Romney campaign continued to hammer Obama over his leadership in the attack’s aftermath. Senor would not go as far as call it a cover-up, but he did suggest the administration may have mislead the public.
“The question is, were those misleading statements intentional or not?” Senor said. “Either way though, he has to get to the bottom.”
Cutter criticized the Romney campaign for politicizing the attack.
“We live in a dangerous world. Any time American lives are lost, it's a terrible tragedy,” Cutter said. “The president acted quickly to make sure that every other embassy was protected. We are getting to the bottom of it and we need to work this investigation through. It's really important that we not politicize this process.”
The Obama campaign is also attacking Romney on his China policy ahead of Monday night’s debate in Florida. Cutter touted the president’s accomplishments, citing new enforcement cases with the World Trade Organization.
“The president takes a responsible but strong approach to protect American business, to protect American workers,” Cutter said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “When he took action to protect the American tire industry—tire workers in Ohio—Mitt Romney called that protectionist. Yet, he has now flipped on that and is trying to get tough on China.”
Last Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said Romney’s policy toward China “could kick off a trade war that would be bad for the economy,” adding that he agreed with the president on this topic.
The final debate takes place Monday night in Boca Raton, Fla.