On the day Iranian scientists announced the production of the country's first nuclear fuel rod, Rick Santorum pledged that if elected president he will ensure Iran cannot produce a nuclear weapon -- in part by threatening to bomb their facilities unless the country opens them up to inspectors. 

"Iran will not get a nuclear weapon under my watch," Santorum said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

He's not the first presidential candidate to make the claim, but the comments come as the former Pennsylvania senator tries to demonstrate his strength on the foreign policy front. Recent polling shows his candidacy surging in Iowa ahead of Tuesday's caucuses, and Santorum claims part of that is because voters are paying attention to his leadership credentials. 

Santorum floated an aggressive strategy for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. He said he would order air strikes if the country does not open up its facilities, and he declared Iranian nuclear scientists should be treated like an "enemy combatant," similar to an "Al Qaeda member." 

Though President Obama has pursued sanctions against Iran, Santorum said he hasn't gone far enough and criticized him for holding back support for the 2009 democracy movement in Iran. 

The Republican presidential candidates, with the exception of Ron Paul, have been competing to demonstrate toughness on the Iranian nuclear issue. Michele Bachmann and others lately have used Paul's laissez-faire attitude toward Iran as a foil -- the Minnesota congressman told "Fox News Sunday" that his Iran policies are "dangerous." 

Mitt Romney has also declared he'd prevent Iran from obtaining or producing a nuclear weapon, while Newt Gingrich said at one debate he would support "taking out" Iranian scientists, "all of it covertly." 

Gingrich's numbers in Iowa have plummeted in recent polls as Santorum's have ticked upward. 

The Des Moines Register poll released Saturday showed Gingrich in fourth and Santorum in third, with Mitt Romney and Ron Paul at the top. However, the last two days of the four-day poll showed Santorum moving into second position, with Paul falling back to third. 

Santorum said Sunday his goal is to do better on Tuesday than Bachmann or Rick Perry

"We feel very good about the way things are going on the ground," Santorum said. 

In the Sunday interview, Santorum was challenged on one critique he made of Obama's foreign policy. Santorum, while criticizing Obama for not getting behind Iran's democracy movement, also criticized Obama for abandoning Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak when the democracy movement in that country reached a tipping point. 

"He joins the radicals," Santorum said, in reference to Islamist groups that have since performed well in early Egyptian elections. 

Asked how Santorum could be for democracy in one country and not in another, Santorum disputed the comparison. 

"The Muslim Brotherhood is not about democracy," he said.