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Fact check: Rivals’ assertions put under microscope

Mitt Romney and President Obama clashed on foreign policy in their final debate.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Mitt Romney and President Obama clashed on foreign policy in their final debate.

Topic: Iran

Statement by Romney: “We’re four years closer to a nuclear Iran. And we should not have wasted these four years to the extent they continue to be able to spin these centrifuges and get that much closer. That’s number one.”

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Analysis: As of May, Iran had produced roughly seven tons of low-grade, 3.5 percent-enriched uranium, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iran’s nuclear program for the United Nations.

Analyzing the report, the nonpartisan Institute for Science and International Security concluded that Iran’s uranium supply “if further enriched to weapon grade, is enough to make over five nuclear weapons.”

Uranium enrichment percentages refer to concentrations of uranium-235, the radioactive isotope that produces nuclear reactions. Nuclear power plants operate with concentrations of 3 to 5 percent; nuclear weapons require 90 percent.

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In addition, the Institute for Science and International Security says the country has about 250 pounds of 19.75 percent enriched uranium, which is used in research reactors. The institute reported in June that if Iran further enriched its current supply of this concentration of uranium, it would produce less than half of the weapons-grade uranium needed to make a bomb. At its current rate of production, the institute estimated that Iran will have enough 19.75 percent-enriched uranium — which would need to be further enriched — in February 2013 to make a bomb.

Topic: China

Statement by Obama: “We’ve won just about every case [against China] that we’ve filed, that has been decided. In fact, just recently, steelworkers in Ohio and throughout the Midwest, Pennsylvania, are in a position now to sell steel to China because we won that case.”

Analysis: The Obama administration has won about a dozen cases against China that were decided by the World Trade Organization, including a ruling last week that barred China from imposing unfair tariffs on American steel exports. The United States has not lost any of the cases it has brought before the WTO against China, though some are pending.

But China also has won three trade cases against the United States. Also, it is unclear whether the American victories have aided US companies. For example, the Obama administration successfully fought for repeal of Chinese tariffs on American-made auto parts, but before and during the adjudication process, Chinese auto parts makers built a formidable industry that has diminished little, even after the tariff repeal.

The Obama administration filed a new complaint in September, alleging that China is illegally subsidizing its auto parts industry to gain a competitive advantage over the United States. Winning the case would not automatically entitle American companies to recover lost business.

In addition, some major business sectors fall outside the World Trade Organization’s jurisdiction, leaving the United States without an independent arbiter to resolve disputes.

Topic: Oil

Statement by Obama: “We’ve cut our oil imports to the lowest level in two decades because we’ve developed oil and natural gas.”

Analysis: In 2011, crude oil imports averaged 8.9 million barrels a day — the lowest level seen since 1999, according to a March report from the US Energy Information Administration. That’s also about 12 percent lower than in 2005, when crude imports peaked at 10.1 million barrels a day.

The energy administration attributed the drop in oil imports, in large part, to increased domestic production coming out of Texas and the Bakken shale rock formation in North Dakota. The recession and slow recovery also tend to reduce oil demand.

Technological advances have made it easier to drill for oil and natural gas trapped in large shale formations throughout the country, helping to push up estimates of how big the nation’s reserves are.

US crude oil production topped 6 million barrels a day in the first quarter of this year — the first time it has done so in 14 years, according to the energy administration.

Topic: Israel

Statement by Obama: “First of all, Israel is a true friend. It is our greatest ally in the region. And if Israel is attacked, America will stand with Israel. I’ve made that clear throughout my presidency.”

Statement by Romney: “Well, first of all, I want to underscore the same point the president made, which is that if I’m president of the United States, when I’m president of the United States, we will stand with Israel. And if Israel is attacked, we have their back, not just diplomatically, not just culturally, but militarily. That’s number one.”

Analysis: Both candidates used the somewhat ambiguous phrase “stand with Israel,” but neither offered a straightforward “yes” when asked by moderator Bob Schieffer if they would “declare that an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States.”

Both Obama and Romney also have indicated they wouldn’t necessarily follow suit if Israel decided to strike Iran to prevent a nuclear weapon.

“Look, Israel can determine for itself — it’s a sovereign nation — what’s in their interest,’’ Vice President Joe Biden told ABC News in 2009.

When Romney traveled to Israel over the summer, a spokesman said that “if Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that capability, the governor would respect that decision.”

CALLUM BORCHERS, ERIN AILWORTH and ALAN WIRZBICKI

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