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Santorum: GOP candidates 'pandering' on foreign aid

"They're pandering to an anti-foreign aid element out there," Santorum said of the GOP candidates criticizing foreign aid during an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Monday.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said during Saturday's GOP primary debate that he would cut American aid budgets to zero for each foreign country, and then tie future aid to the extent to which countries supported the United States. Perry implied that Pakistan would no longer receive aid, but that Israel would continue to.

"It's time for us as a country to say no to foreign aid to countries that don't support the United States of America," Perry said.

The idea received a vote of approval from rival Newt Gingrich, but Santorum and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) defended the aid as important strategic spending.

"This was, I think, a low light in that debate," said Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania.

Santorum told MSNBC that voters have a skewed understanding of the amount of money the federal government spends on foreign aid.

"When I tell them it's less than a half a percent people are shocked," Santorum said of the portion of the U.S. budget allotted annually to foreign aid.

Santorum also called for the United States to remain engaged with Pakistan.

"We have had good relationships, we need to continue to foster those relationships, lest radical elements in Pakistan wrest control of that country and with it nuclear weapons," he added.

The debate Saturday, which primarily focused on foreign policy, highlighted stark contrasts between the candidates' policy views.

For months the candidates have struggled to draw major distinctions between themselves, as they all ran to the right on economic and social issues. But in Saturday's debate the candidates staked out disparate positions on military intervention in Iran, the definition of torture and foreign aid budgets.

For more on the candidates' foreign policy positions, click here.

—Josh Lederman and Justin Sink contributed to this story.