The two main presidential candidates agreed Wednesday that Iran's missile tests call for renewed pressure on that country, but Democrat Barack Obama stressed direct diplomacy while Republican John McCain focused on tougher sanctions against Tehran.
Obama called for a continued package of carrot-and-stick incentives to dissuade the Iranians from pursuing nuclear weapons while putting more emphasis on diplomatic talks.
"At this point, the report is unclear, it's still early," Obama said on "The Early Show" on CBS. "What this underscores is the need for ... a clear policy that is putting the burden on Iran to change behavior. And frankly, we just have not been able to do that the last several years, partly because we're not engaged in direct diplomacy."
McCain, speaking to reporters in South Park, Pa., said "lines of communications" with Iran should continue. However, he pushed for sanctions against the Iranians that could affect "their very aggressive behavior, not only rhetorically, but in their pursuit of nuclear weapons as well as this latest missile test."
"So lines of communication are fine. Action is what's necessary," McCain said.
McCain said there is "continuing, mounting evidence that Iran is pursuing the acquisition of nuclear weapons," a statement that appears at odds with a December U.S. intelligence report.
The National Intelligence Estimate concluded that Iran's nuclear weapons development program has been halted since the fall of 2003 because of international pressure. The report cautioned that Iran continues to enrich uranium and still could develop a bomb between 2010 and 2015 if it decided to do so.
"I am convinced that our European allies and friends are ready to impose significant, impactful and meaningful sanctions on the Iranians," McCain said Wednesday, "especially financial, and including trade and international financial systems, and that those sanctions can be effective in modifying Iranian behavior."
So far, McCain said, "there have been negotiations, there have been discussions, there have been packages of incentives offered to the Iranians, which have been rejected time after time. It's time for action and it's time to make Iranians understand that this kind of violation of international treaties, this kind of threatening of their neighbors, this kind of continued military activity is not without costs."
Republicans have said Obama is too eager to engage enemies of the U.S. in talks. Asked how he would respond to the missile tests if he were president, Obama said he would confer with his national security team to find out whether "this indicates any new capabilities on Iran's part."
Iran's state-run television reported Wednesday that the government had tested nine long- and medium-range missiles, including a new version of the Shahab-3 missile that has a range of 1,250 miles and is armed with a 1-ton conventional warhead. A missile with that range could strike Israel, Turkey, the Arabian peninsula, Afghanistan or Pakistan.
An Iranian military official said the missile tests would show Iran's enemies its "resolve and might." In June, Israel conducted military exercises largely seen as a potential test for a strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.
Obama, while calling Iran a threat, criticized the Bush administration for using bellicose language against the Iranian government while increasing exports to the country.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that U.S. exports to Iran grew more than tenfold under President Bush in spite of his criticism of its government as a sponsor of terrorism and warnings against any efforts to develop a nuclear weapon.
"It's that kind of mixed signal that has led to the kind of situation that we're in right now," Obama said on ABC's "Good Morning America."