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GOP Candidates Pledge Support For Israel

Israel's security must be safeguarded in the coming talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, GOP presidential contenders told the Republican Jewish Coalition on Tuesday.

Palestinians must acknowledge Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state and make a good-faith effort to stop terrorism, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said.

"We would like to have peace," Giuliani said. "We don't want to have a peace in which Americans and Israelis are getting killed. And we certainly don't want to create another terrorist-supporting state. We have too many of them already."

Noting that Gaza became a launching ground for attacks after Israel withdrew in 2005, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said, "A thousand-plus rockets being launched from the Gaza strip shows the best intentions can result in something far less."

The candidates who spoke to the gathering at a downtown Washington hotel - including Arizona Sen. John McCain, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson and Sen. Sam Brownback - all expressed strong support for Israel, describing policies that for the most part resemble the Bush administration's.

The presidential hopefuls were eager to show they are staunch supporters of Israel.

Giuliani said that as mayor he had the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat thrown out of a concert for U.N. diplomats at Lincoln Center. Romney said he refused to provide a security escort for former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami's trip from the airport to a Harvard University address.

All the candidates said they would be prepared as president to use military force against Iran to stop it from getting nuclear weapons. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that "Israel's Zionist regime should be wiped off the map."

Thompson said, "The enemy that we face is a common one with Israel."

There were several moments of levity, particularly when Giuliani commiserated with the audience about being a Republican amid Democrats.

"A lot of you are the first Republicans in your families - a lot of you get grief for being Republicans, right?" Giuliani said. He recalled his amazement, at a Bar Mitzvah he went to in 1980 in Manhattan, to hear the guests say they were voting for Ronald Reagan.

"This is a city Abraham Lincoln didn't carry, I swear," he said. "That's why, when they want to know, `Are you really a Republican?' I gave my blood for the Republican Party in New York."

Despite a warm reception from the audience, candidates who took questions - Giuliani didn't - got a few tough ones.

One person asked Romney about his Mormon faith and why his Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seems to scare some voters. Romney said with a laugh, "I'm probably the wrong one to ask, but my neighbors might know."

He added that some evangelical Christian leaders are supporting him over the other Republicans.

"I believe evangelical Christians are very much open to my candidacy, because we share views on so many issues," Romney said. "We believe in God. We believe that all the children on the Earth are children of the same maker. We believe liberty is a gift from God. Those principles will be the values I bring to the White House, if I'm fortunate enough to become president."

Pressed to explain why public opinion surveys suggest some people would not vote for a Mormon, Romney said polls also show reluctance to vote for someone older or someone who's been divorced many times.

"You know what, they're going to vote for all of us, because those things are at the back of their mind," Romney said. "But at the front of their mind, they want to know who can lead America to a more prosperous and secure place."