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Boca Raton, Florida (AFP) Oct 23, 2012
White House hopeful Mitt Romney said Monday he would maintain drone strikes in Pakistan if he defeats President Barack Obama and impose conditions on aid to the nuclear-armed nation.
At the two men's final debate before November 6 elections, Romney largely embraced Obama's positions on Pakistan and, in a departure from his frequent criticism, said he did not blame Obama for troubled ties between the nations.
"It's widely reported that drones are being used in drone strikes, and I support that... entirely and feel the president was right to up the usage of that technology," Romney said at the debate in Florida.
Romney said he believed the United States should "continue to go after the people that represent a threat to this nation and to our friends."
But he added: "We're going to have to do more than just going after leaders and killing bad guys, important as that is."
Obama, while rarely speaking publicly on drones, has stepped up strikes by the unmanned, remote-controlled weapons against Islamic extremists in areas of Pakistan where the government has limited control.
The drones have been deeply unpopular in Pakistan, where the government calls them a violation of sovereignty and opposition figures charge that the strikes breed more extremism by inadvertently killing civilians.
The drone issue has further strained relations, which nosedived last year when Obama ordered a secret raid that killed Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad.
Romney voiced concern about the Haqqani network, a militant group in Afghanistan that US officials have linked to Pakistan, and worried over the power of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
"It's a nation that's not like others and it does not have a civilian leadership that is calling the shots there," Romney said.
Asked by moderator Bob Schieffer if the United States should "divorce" Pakistan, Romney supported continued ties but -- in line with legislation approved by Congress -- called for more conditions on US assistance.
"No, it's not time to divorce a nation on Earth that has 100 nuclear weapons and is on the way to double that at some point, a nation that has serious threats from terrorist groups within its nation," Romney said.
"But we do need to make sure that, as we send support for them, that this is tied to them making progress on matters that would lead them to becoming a civil society," he said.
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