Marco Rubio, the Florida senator, has continued his audition as a potential Republican vice presidential candidate with a high-profile foreign policy speech calling for decisive US leadership.
Mr Rubio, a Cuban-American first-term senator and one of the Republican Party’s rising stars, on Wednesday called for a more muscular foreign policy including potential military action in Iran and a more decisive US response in Syria. He also had sharp comments about China and Russia.
However, in a speech designed to present himself as a serious thinker on foreign policy issues, he avoided the partisan tone of the campaign trail and also criticised some of the more isolationist members of his own party.
“There are more nations than ever which are capable of contributing, but there is still only one nation capable of leading,” he told an audience at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Mr Rubio, who campaigned with presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney earlier this week, is considered a strong potential candidate for the vice presidential slot because he is from the important electoral state of Florida, has strong ties to the Tea Party sections of the party and could boost lagging Republican support among Hispanics.
On Iran, Mr Rubio said the US should “be open to negotiations” but that military action could be required if all else fails. In Syria, the US should lead a coalition with Turkey and the Arab League to create a safe haven for rebels and increase assistance, including potentially providing arms, he said.
He echoed Mr Romney’s scepticism about Russia and China, saying the US had “gotten precious little” in return for nuclear concessions to Moscow. “We hold out hope for a new China of tomorrow, but for now we must deal with the China of today,” he said. “A China which enjoys its closest relationships with countries such as North Korea and Iran.”
Although he avoided slamming the Obama administration for being weak, as the Republican presidential candidates tried to argue, he said Mr Obama placed too much faith in institutions such as the UN.
During questions, Mr Rubio admitted that on a recent visit to Libya he had heard people thanking President Barack Obama for getting rid of Muammer Gaddafi, a policy he supported. His comments on Libya could put him at odds with Mr Romney who was initially in favour of the military campaign, but then accused the Obama administration of “mission creep and mission muddle” when it did not bring about immediate results.
Even before he had spoken, the Obama campaign fired back at Mr Rubio. “Under President Obama’s leadership, we have successfully confronted our enemies and strengthened our alliances to effectively meet the challenges we face overseas,” said Brad Woodhouse, a spokesman for the Democrats.