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WASHINGTON, April 22 (Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton warned Tehran on Tuesday that if she were president, the United States could "totally obliterate" Iran in retaliation for a nuclear strike against Israel.
On the day of a crucial vote in her nomination battle against fellow Democrat Barack Obama, the New York senator said she wanted to make clear to Tehran what she was prepared to do as president in hopes that this warning would deter any Iranian nuclear attack against the Jewish state.
"I want the Iranians to know that if I’m the president, we will attack Iran (if it attacks Israel)," Clinton said in an interview on ABC’s "Good Morning America."
"In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them," she said.
"That’s a terrible thing to say but those people who run Iran need to understand that because that perhaps will deter them from doing something that would be reckless, foolish and tragic," Clinton said.
Her comments appeared harder than a week ago, when during a presidential debate she promised "massive retaliation" against any Iranian attack on Israel.
Obama, who on Tuesday faces Clinton in Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary, rejected her rhetoric as saber-rattling. Tuesday’s vote could help decide which Democrat will face Republican John McCain for the White House in the November general election.
"One of the things that we’ve seen over the last several years is a bunch of talk using words like ‘obliterate,’" Obama, an Illinois senator, said in a separate ABC interview. "It doesn’t actually produce good results. And so I’m not interested in saber-rattling."
Obama said he would respond "forcefully and swiftly" to an Iranian attack against Israel or any other U.S. ally.
Iran, which Washington and its allies charge is seeking nuclear arms, has voiced war-like rhetoric in recent years amid speculation its nuclear facilities could face U.S. or Israeli military action.
Tehran denies it is trying to acquire nuclear weapons and says it needs nuclear technology to generate electricity.
Israel is widely believed to have nuclear weapons but, as a policy of "strategic ambiguity," has not confirmed or denied the nature of its arsenal.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad outraged the international community in 2005 by saying "Israel should be wiped off the map." A week ago, a senior Iranian army commander said Iran would "eliminate" Israel in response to any military attack from the Jewish state.
Clinton’s comments came days before an Iranian run-off election for parliament on Friday that could bring fresh challenges for Ahmadinejad from a broad conservative camp as the country prepares for its own presidential election next year. (Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Eric Walsh)