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'I don't hate Muslims,' Bachmann says repeatedly in Iowa

James Novogrod / NBC News

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., addresses reporters Saturday in Estherville, Iowa, where she was campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination.

ALGONA, Iowa – A feud inside the GOP presidential field provoked Michele Bachmann to defend her hard line on Iran on Saturday while insisting that she doesn't "hate Muslims."

Bachmann repeated variations on that phrase in at least three cities during her 99 county bus tour of Iowa.

"I don't hate Muslims.  I love the American people.  And as president of the United States, my goal will be to keep America safe, free, and sovereign," Bachmann told reporters Saturday morning  in Estherville.

The unusually personal self-defense is the latest element in a back-and-forth with U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who criticized Bachmann on national television Friday night.

Appearing on NBC's "Tonight Show," Paul said Bachmann "doesn’t like" Muslims.

"She hates Muslims," Paul added. "She wants to go get 'em."

The origins of the feud go back to Thursday's Fox News debate, in Sioux City, where Paul and Bachmann locked horns over how to handle the prospect of a nuclear Iran.

"There's war propaganda going on," Paul said of pronouncements among the GOP about confronting the threat.

"To me, the greatest danger is that we will have a president that will overreact and we will soon bomb Iran," he added.

Kevin Winter / NBCuniversal / Getty Images Contributor

Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul appears on the "Tonight Show With Jay Leno" Friday at NBC Studios in Burbank, Calif.

Asked to reply, Bachmann said: "I think I have never heard a more dangerous answer for American security than the one that we just heard from Ron Paul."

She later added that the idea of not confronting Iran amounts to "the greatest under-reaction in world history."

(Bachmann's plan on Iran, unveiled in November, does not call for an immediate strike, but recommends "crushing" sanctions and covert activity to destabilize the regime.)

On Saturday, Bachmann used Paul's charge that she "hates" Muslims to advance her own assertions about Iran's leaders.

"Where the true hatred is coming from is the president of Iran and the mullahs," Bachmann told reporters in Algona.

"They’ve said unequivocally that they want to obtain a nuclear weapon for the express purpose of using it against our ally, Israel, to kill the Jews," she said, adding: "They also want to use it against the United States and kill Americans."

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