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GOP presidential candidates cautiously weigh in on Libya

DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 15: Republican presidential candidate and Texas Governor Rick Perry speaks to visitors at the Iowa State Fair August 15, 2011 in Des Moines, Iowa. The visit is part of Perry's first campaign trip to Iowa since declaring he would seek the Republican nomination for president on August 13.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Monday expressed cautious optimism about the advancement of rebel forces in Libya. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Updated at 2:18 p.m. ET

Following news that rebels are closing in on the regime of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, the Republican candidates for president came out with cautious statements in support of the developments.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney released a statement calling Qaddafi a "brutal tyrant" and focusing on what Libya's new leaders should do.

"It is my hope that Libya will now move toward a representative form of government that supports freedom, human rights, and the rule of law," Romney said. "As a first step, I call on this new government to arrest and extradite the mastermind behind the bombing of Pan Am 103, Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi, so justice can finally be done."

Al-Megrahi was released from a Scottish prison in 2009 after serving only eight years of his life sentence on compassionate grounds, after being diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. The Obama administration opposed the release of al-Megrahi, who was responsible for the 1988 attack that killed 270 people, but he was welcomed in the Qaddafi-ruled Libya.

Earlier in the year, Romney -- along with Rick Santorum and Tim Pawlenty (who has since dropped out of the presidential race) -- said President Obama's actions in Libya were too weak. The president chose to take limited action in Libya by providing support to a NATO-led mission, and it's up for debate as to whether the advancement of the rebels will be a political victory for Mr. Obama.

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Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, was more critical of the president's leadership in his statement today while still praising the results of the NATO-backed rebellion.

"Ridding the world of the likes of Gadhafi is a good thing, but this indecisive president had little to do with this triumph," Santorum said. "The stated task from the very beginning for this administration was to determine whether the U.S. can positively influence the direction of the successor government. As we have seen in Egypt, the euphoria of toppling a dictator does not always result in more security for us and our allies in the region."

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who previously served as Mr. Obama's ambassador to China, was previously against U.S. intervention in Libya. Huntsman released a statement today offering cautious optimism.

"The impending fall of Colonel Gaddafi is one chapter in the developing story of a nation in turmoil," he said. "Gaddafi has been a longtime opponent of freedom, and I am hopeful -- as the whole world should be -- that his defeat is a step toward openness, democracy and human rights for a people who greatly deserve it."

Texas Gov. Rick Perry also offered a positive but cautious statement.

"The crumbling of Muammar Ghadafi's reign, a violent, repressive dictatorship with a history of terrorism, is cause for cautious celebration," he said. "The lasting impact of events in Libya will depend on ensuring rebel factions form a unified, civil government that guarantees personal freedoms, and builds a new relationship with the West where we are allies instead of adversaries."

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