Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Obama and Romney prepare for debate

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney have been preparing for Monday's third and final presidential debate and fashioning strategy on the chessboard of battleground states that will decide the deadlocked race for the White House.

The presidency is decided in state-by-state contests, not by a national popular vote. Forty-one of the 50 states are essentially already decided, and the candidates have taken the fight to the remaining nine battleground states, including the critical Ohio and Florida.

The 90-minute foreign policy debate in Boca Raton, Florida, falls 15 days before the November 6 election and represents the candidates' last chance to directly confront one another before an audience of millions of Americans watching the televised face-off.

Mr Obama was preparing for the debate at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains He arrived there with top advisers on Friday. Mr Romney was spending the weekend in Florida, continuing intensive debate preparation that has consumed large amounts of his time in recent weeks.

While the economy has been the dominant theme of the election, foreign policy has attracted renewed media attention in the aftermath of last month's attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including US ambassador Chris Stevens.

And over the weekend reports flashed around Washington of developments in the administration's efforts to end Iran's suspected drive to build a nuclear weapon. The White House denied a New York Times report that there was an agreement in principle for bilateral talks with Tehran after the election. White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, however, said that the Mr Obama administration had repeatedly expressed its willingness for such talks.

Iran's economy is suffering mightily under a series of international sanctions aimed at convincing the Islamic Republic to stop uranium enrichment, a precursor to creating a nuclear weapon. Mr Obama has said if diplomacy and sanctions fail, he was ready to use military action. So has Mr Romney, although he has said US threats should be more robust.

Mr Obama had ranked well with the public on his handling of international issues and in fighting terrorism, especially after the daring US raid that killed Osama bin Laden. But the administration's response to the Libya attack and questions over levels of security at the consulate have given Mr Romney and his Republican allies an issue with which to raise doubts about Obama's foreign policy leadership.

Mr Romney's team has focused on Libya, following reports that Mr Obama's administration could have known early on that militants, not protesters angry over a film produced in the US that ridiculed Islam, launched the attack that killed the US ambassador there. Within 24 hours of the attack, the CIA station chief in Libya told Washington about eyewitness reports that the attack was carried out by militants, officials said.

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