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In New Hampshire, Rand Paul defends foreign policy views

Paul defended his foreign policy views after a nationally televised interview where he pushed back on suggestions he had shifted on issues like aid to Israel.

MILFORD, New Hampshire – Republican Rand Paul on Wednesday defended his foreign policy views following a nationally televised interview where he pushed back on suggestions he had shifted on issues like aid to Israel and whether Iran poses a threat to the United States.

Reporters pressed the Kentucky senator on foreign affairs on his first visit to New Hampshire as an official contender for the 2016 GOP nomination. The 52-year old senator formally entered the field Tuesday.

But Paul’s rally in the nation’s first primary state was overshadowed by an appearance on NBC’s "Today Show" Wednesday morning, where he appeared to grow defensive when host Savannah Guthrie pointed out inconsistencies in his positions, including his views on an agreement struck with Iran that would curtail its nuclear program.

“Why don’t we let me explain instead of talking over me, okay?” Paul told Guthrie. “Before we go through a litany of things you say I’ve changed on, why don’t you ask me a question: Have I changed my opinion?”

Paul, a tea party favorite, has been trying to straddle the libertarian leanings of his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, with more muscular foreign policy positions espoused by many Republican voters and the GOP establishment broadly. Many libertarians, who form Ron Paul’s passionate voter base and whose energy the younger Paul hopes to harness for his own campaign, oppose foreign aid and want to see a much smaller U.S. military footprint overseas.

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Paul, who is staunchly anti-abortion, also faced scrutiny after an interview in which he seemed to hedge on whether there should be exceptions to a full ban on pregnancy termination.  "The thing is about abortion — and about a lot of things — is that I think people get tied up in all these details of, sort of, you're this or this or that, or you're hard and fast (on) one thing or the other," he told The Associated Press.

At a press conference, Paul was challenged on his foreign policy views--specifically a more bellicose tone toward Iran, whom Paul once insisted did not pose a threat to the U.S. “I would say to those who want to criticize me, one, they have to tell the truth. And I don’t believe those who have started so hard are into truth telling,” Paul said. “But my position has been pretty clear on Iran. My position is I voted for sanctions on Iran. I think Iran is a threat. And I think that having a nuclear weapon would be potentially a disaster for the world.”

Pressed again to clarify, Paul said, “Let’s get rid of potentially. It’s just a slip of the word. Not potentially, is definitely a danger. It has always been a danger and it’s always been something I oppose and would continue to oppose.” 

Paul antagonists have signaled they won’t allow his shifting views to go unnoticed. A new web video released by the Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America uses a quote from Paul saying, “Our national security is not threatened by Iran having one nuclear weapon.”

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Paul told reporters such attacks did not reflect his evolution over time. “These ads are from statements made eight years ago. I think events do change. I think Iran has always been a threat, but I think they are increasingly a threat,” he said. “So I’m not sure that it’s, my view has changed on whether Iran is a threat, I think Iran has become more of a threat over the past eight years.”  

At the rally, Paul also took a shot at Hillary Rodham Clinton, who will likely declare her bid for the 2016 Democratic nomination soon. He focused specifically on the work of her family foundation, whose acceptance of foreign contributions during Hillary Clinton’s term as secretary of state has come under scrutiny.  “I think there is big news coming on the Clinton Foundation. I think there are things that went on at the Clinton foundation that are going to shock people and I think they’re going to make people question whether or not she ought to run for president,” Paul said.

Asked by reporters what he was hinting at, Paul said, “It wouldn’t be a secret anymore. It’s coming soon.”

Paul’s speech at the rally echoed themes used by his father in 2012, when he placed second behind Mitt Romney in the New Hampshire primary.   “I’ve come to New Hampshire to announce I will fight for your right to be left alone,” Paul said as the crowd cheered in agreement. “I will fight to keep the federal government out of New Hampshire, out of your home, out of your business … and out of your church. I will fight to allow you to be wholly free in all of its aspects.”