US President Barack Obama and rival Mitt Romney have clashed in the third and final presidential debate on foreign policy. Several snap polls have declared Obama the winner, with the election race neck-and-neck.
President Barack Obama took to the stage in confident mood in Boca Raton, Florida on Monday as the presidential rivals sought to capitalize on their final chance to face off in a tight election race.
The candidates opened the 90-minute debate by locking horns on the Middle East. Obama slammed Romney for a foreign policy which is "all over the map."
He accused his rival of shifting positions, warning that he lacked the consistency needed of a commander-in-chief.
Romney, meanwhile, hit out at Obama's policies on the Arab Spring, Syria and Lebanon. While praising the president for ordering the raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, Romney warned that the US couldn't "kill our way out of this mess."
When it came to Iran, Romney reiterated accusations that Obama had weakened US influence abroad, saying he had embarked on an "apology tour" in the Middle East when he came into office and had allowed Iran to move "four years closer" to nuclear weapons. But Obama hit back, describing the "apology tour" allegation as the "biggest whopper" of the campaign so far and said he would not permit a nuclear Iran "as long as I'm president."
Domestic policy steals focus
When talk turned to China, there was a degree of agreement. Both stressed a need to level the playing field in competition with its growing economic might. "With respect to China, China is an adversary and also a potential partner in the international community if it's following the rules. So my attitude coming into office was that we're going to insist that China plays by the same rules as everyone else."
Romney, meanwhile, said one of his first jobs in office would be to label China as a "currency manipulator."
Based on previous US elections, foreign policy has not been considered a driving force for the electorate in the presidential campaign and talk often swung to domestic policy. Jobs, the US budget deficit and America's auto industry were frequently raised as both candidates attempted to tip the scale.
A Reuters/Ipsos online daily tracking poll released on Monday gave both President Obama and Romney 46 percent support. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on Sunday also had the two candidates in a dead heat at 47 percent support.
Obama's slip in the polls was widely attributed to a poor performance in the first TV debate, opening the door for Monday's showdown to prove decisive. A snap poll conducted by CBS News declared 53 percent believed Obama won the final debate, while a CNN poll put Obama as the winner by 48 percent to 40 percent.
ccp/jm (Reuters, AFP)