(CNSNews.com) – Republican presidential candidates began and ended their debate in North Charleston, S.C. on Thursday night by citing Iran’s seizure of two U.S. Navy vessels earlier in the week to criticize President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.
The deal lifts economic sanctions and unfreezes over $100 billion in Iranian assets over the next few days in return for Iran’s verification that it has deactivated a nuclear reactor in Arak and its promise not to develop a nuclear weapon.
Ten American sailors were detained in Iran on Tuesday after their two riverine command boats inadvertently drifted into Iranian waters near Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard released photos of the sailors on their knees with their hands behind their heads. A video of one unidentified sailor apologizing for straying into Iranian waters was shown on Iran’s Press TV.
Secretary of State John Kerry took credit for the sailors’ release the next day, saying it was due to the “critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country secure and strong” and thanking the Iranians “for their cooperation in swiftly resolving this matter.”
But several GOP candidates used the incident to attack the controversial nuclear deal.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) began his answer to a question from Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo on the economy by slamming Obama for not mentioning the captured sailors in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
“I want to get to the substance of the question on jobs, but I want to start with something. Today, many of us picked up our newspapers, and we were horrified to see the sight of 10 American sailors on their knees, with their hands on their heads,” Cruz said.
“In that State of the Union, President Obama didn't so much as mention the 10 sailors that had been captured by Iran.
"And I'll tell you, it was heartbreaking. But the good news is the next commander-in-chief is standing on this stage.
“And I give you my word, if I am elected president, no service man or service woman will be forced to be on their knees, and any nation that captures our fighting men
Donald Trump also cited the incident in his concluding remarks:
“I stood yesterday with 75 construction workers. They're tough, they're strong, they're great people. Half of them had tears pouring down their face. They were watching the humiliation of our young 10 sailors, sitting on the floor with their knees in a begging position, their hands up. And Iranian wise guys having guns to their heads.
“It was a terrible sight. A terrible sight.
During the debate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie picked up on Cruz’ criticism of the incident: “And this president, given what Ted said right at the beginning, he's absolutely right.
Christie later answered a question from Bartiromo on the use of military force by bemoaning the nation’s lack of military readiness under Obama.
“And the problem, Maria, is that the military is not ready, either. We need to rebuild our military, and this president has let it diminish to a point where tinpot dictators like the mullahs in Iran are taking our Navy ships.
"It is disgraceful, and in a Christie administration, they would know much, much better than to do that,” the governor said.
The other debate moderator, Fox Business Network anchor Neil Cavuto, characterized Iran’s detainment of the 10 U.S. sailors as a provocation, and asked former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush what he would do differently as commander-in-chief.
“Governor Bush, for the third time in as many months, the Iranians have provoked us, detaining us, as we've been discussing, with these 10 Navy sailors Tehran had said strayed into their waters. The sailors were released, but only after shown on video apologizing for the incident. This occurring only weeks after Iran fired multiple rockets within 1,500 yards of a U.S. aircraft carrier and then continued to test medium-range missiles.
“Now you've claimed that such actions indicate Tehran has little to fear from a President Obama. I wonder, sir, what would change if they continued doing this sort of thing under a President Jeb Bush? Cavuto asked.
Bush responded that he “would restore the strength of the military. …We’re gutting our military, and so the Iranians and the Chinese and the Russians and many other countries look at the United States not as serious as we once were….
“This president and John Kerry and Hillary Clinton all have made it harder for the next president to act, but he must act to confront the ambitions of Iran. We can get back in the game to restore order and security for our own country,” Bush said.