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Rivals for the Republican nomination to run for US President next year took a tough line in a televised debate on foreign policy.

Front-runner Mitt Romney saved some of his strongest rhetoric for Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“One thing you can know, and that is if we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon, and if we elect Mitt Romney, if you elect me as the next president, they will not have a nuclear weapon,” he declared.

Many polls put Newt Gingrich hot on Romney’s heels. Both said they would use military force against Iran if necessary.

Meanwhile Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann came out for waterboarding – classified as torture by many of America’s closest allies.

“If I were president, I would be willing to use water boarding. I think it was very effective. It gained information for our country,” said Bachmann.

In his reply, Cain insisted: “I would return to that policy. I don’t see it as torture, I see it as an enhanced interrogation technique.”

That comment put Cain, who has been hit by sex allegations, on top in some polls.

And Rick Perry was also judged to have put in a good performance.

He has been working flat out – and spending an awful lot of money lately – to recover from a memory lapse in an earlier debate that no-one seemed willing to forget.

Images of Perry failing to remember the third of three ministries he would cut if he were elected have been viewed over and over again.

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