Image: Mitt Romney
Jim Mahoney  /  AP
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, center, speaks during a stop at Rudy's Country Store and Bar-B-Q, Thursday in Arlington, Texas. 
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updated 5/19/2011 8:01:22 PM ET 2011-05-20T00:01:22

President Barack Obama undermined the sensitive and delicate negotiations for Middle East peace with his outline for resumed talks between Israelis and Palestinians, the Republicans looking to unseat him charged Thursday.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman said Obama, whom he served as U.S. ambassador to China until last month, said the president undercut an opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to build trust. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said Obama "threw Israel under the bus" and handed the Palestinians a victory even before negotiations between the parties could resume. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said it "is a disaster waiting to happen." Former Sen. Rick Santorum called the president's approach "dangerous."

Foreign policy has hardly been the center of the debate among the still-forming GOP presidential field. Instead, the candidates and potential candidates have kept their focus — like the country's — on domestic issues that are weighing on voters and their pocketbooks. Obama's speech provided one of the first opportunities for Republicans to assert their foreign policy differences with Obama and his Democratic administration.

Obama endorsed Palestinians' demands for the borders of its future state based on 1967 borders — before the Six Day War in which Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. That was a significant shift in U.S. foreign policy.

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"It is disrespectful of Israel for America to dictate negotiating terms to our ally," Romney said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It is not appropriate for the president to dictate the terms."

Story: Obama tells Israel: 1967 borders key to peace

Instead, the United States should work with Israel to push for peace without acceding to the Palestinians, he said.

Campaigning here in the state that hosts the first presidential nominating primary, Huntsman also said the United States should respect Israel and work to foster trust between Israelis and Palestinians.

"If we respect and recognize Israel as the ally that it is, we probably ought to listen to what they think is best," said Huntsman, who served in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush before surprising his party and serving Obama, a Democrat.

He acknowledged he didn't watch Obama's speech and was reacting to news coverage — or as he called it "the aftermath."

Obama urged Israel to accept that it can never have a truly peaceful nation based on "permanent occupation." That follows what other Republicans have painted as hostility from this administration toward a stalwart ally in the Middle East.

"The current administration needs to come to terms with its confused and dangerous foreign policy soon, as clarity and security are the necessary conditions of any serious and coherent American set of policies," Santorum said in a statement.

Obama's speech at the State Department addressed the uprisings sweeping the Arab world. Speaking to audiences abroad and at home, he sought to leave no doubt that the U.S. stands behind the protesters who have swelled from nation to nation across the Middle East and North Africa.

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"We know that our own future is bound to this region by the forces of economics and security; history and faith," the president said.

But the remarks only muddied things, especially on the dicey issue of Jerusalem, Pawlenty said.

"The city of Jerusalem must never be re-divided," he said. "At this time of upheaval in the Middle East, it's never been more important for America to stand strong for Israel and for a united Jerusalem."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Obama's Mideast speech stirs controversy

  1. Transcript of: Obama's Mideast speech stirs controversy

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor (Los Angeles): If you've been following this broadcast, following our coverage, you have heard us talking about the so-called Arab spring, the upheaval in Egypt , Tunisia , Yemen , Bahrain , Syria , Libya . And it's still going on at this moment and will continue. Today President Obama delivered a major speech laying out his vision for the Middle East , and his main message is already proving controversial. We have it covered tonight from all angles, beginning with NBC 's Ron Allen at the White House . Ron , good evening.

    RON ALLEN reporting: Good evening to you, Brian . Yes, the president tried to put the US squarely on the side of the people in the Arab world demanding their rights. But all that may have been overshadowed by his most direct comments yet, perhaps, about how he thinks Israel and the Palestinians should make peace. President Obama hailed the so-called Arab spring as a historic opportunity.

    President BARACK OBAMA: There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity. But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.

    ALLEN: Saying the US has a stake not just in the stability of nations, but also the freedom of people.

    Pres. OBAMA: Our message is simple. If you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States .

    ALLEN: The president had blunt words for dictators like Syria 's Bashar al-Assad , accused of killing hundreds in a brutal crackdown on protesters demanding change.

    Pres. OBAMA: President Assad now has a choice. He can lead that transition or get out of the way.

    ALLEN: Many in the Arab world have doubts about Mr. Obama 's commitment.

    Unidentified Man: It's really frustrating.

    ALLEN: As we saw firsthand in Tahrir Square , where many expected more support from the president. And today it was his very direct language to Israel that was perhaps most striking.

    Pres. OBAMA: The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.

    ALLEN: Calling on Israel to hand over a significant amount of land to the Palestinians in exchange for security and peace.

    Pres. OBAMA: We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.

    ALLEN: Israel 's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected that, saying Israel would be indefensible, and major Jewish settlements would be outside Israel . However, Mr. Obama said he's convinced the majority of Palestinians and Israelis no longer want to be trapped in the past.

    Pres. OBAMA: That is the choice that must be made; a choice between hate and hope, between the shackles of the past and the promise of the future.

    ALLEN: The president also said that all Palestinians , including the militant group Hamas , which is now part of the government, must recognize Israel's right to exist . The Israeli prime minister is here tomorrow for talks with the president, and there's certainly a lot more to talk about now. Brian :

    WILLIAMS: Ron Allen at the White House tonight with our report on the president's speech. Ron , thanks.

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