JERUSALEM, Israel -- GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney says if he's elected in 2012, he'll visit Israel first.
"My first foreign trip will be to Israel to show the world we care about that country and that region," Romney said at a foreign policy debate in Washington Tuesday evening. "The right course for Israel is to care about Israel."
Seven Republican contenders took part in the debate, jointly sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and CNN.
Responses varied on a potential Israeli military strike on Iranian nuclear sites.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said he would want to be sure a strike would bring down the present regime.
Businessman Herman Cain said he would back it "if the mission and the plan were clear."
But Texas congressman Ron Paul disagreed.
"Why does Israel need our help? We need to get out of their way, that's their business," he said.
Rep. Michele Bachman said despite Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated threats "to eradicate Israel from the face of the earth," President Obama has handed him an additional "two-and-a-half years to operate." She said Iran wouldn't hesitate to use its weapons against the U.S.
Romney, who has often criticized President Obama's treatment of Israel, said the president's agenda is "friendly to our foes" and "disrespectful of our friends." (Obama's first trip after taking office was to Cairo to reach out to the Muslim world, but as president, he has never visited Israel.)
Earlier this month, Romney said Obama's remark to French President Nicolas Sarkozy on the sidelines of the G-20 summit exposed his "disdain" toward Israel.
"President Obama's derisive remarks about Israel's prime minister confirm what any observer would have gleaned from his public statements and actions toward our longstanding ally, Israel," Romney said.
Unaware their microphones had not been turned off, Sarkozy told Obama he couldn't stand Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and called him "a liar." Obama responded, "You're fed up with him, but I have to deal with him every day!"
Last September, during the Palestinian Authority's unilateral statehood bid at the United Nations, Romney released a statement blaming Obama's policies for the "diplomatic disaster."
"What we are watching unfold at the United Nations is an unmitigated diplomatic disaster," the statement read. "It is the culmination of President Obama's repeated efforts over three years to throw Israel under the bus and undermine its negotiating position," Romney said, adding, "that policy must stop now."