11/12/2011 09:36 pm ET Updated Jan 12, 2012

Rick Perry: Israel Foreign Aid Starts 'At Zero' [UPDATED]

Rick Perry called for a radical new approach to American foreign aid spending in the GOP debate Saturday night, proposing that all aid be reduced "to zero," and then be re-implemented only once the country made a good case for their aid. Asked later in the night if he included Israel in that plan, Perry said he did.

"Obviously Israel is a special ally, and my guess is we would be funding them at a high level," Perry said, "but everyone should come in at zero."

It wasn't quite calling for the end of foreign aid to Israel -- Perry was quite clear he supported it -- but the tricky question demonstrated the difficulty of the proposition he made earlier in the night.

Perry had been speaking about cutting aid across the board to zero during a conversation about Pakistan at the beginning of the debate.

"Pakistan is clearly sending us messages that they don't deserve our foreign aid because they're not being honest with us," he said. It was unclear what exact mechanism would be put in place to permit foreign nations to make their pitch for the necessity of American foreign aid.

The U.S. gives about $50 billion of foreign military and political aid per year, including about $3 billion to Israel alone.

Even before the debate was over, Perry's official Twitter account began doing limited damage control, tweeting, "Perry is a friend to Israel, understands challenges faced by the country along with a link to Perry's position statement on Israel."

In an earlier debate, both Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain had pushed back against a suggestion by Ron Paul that foreign aid -- including that to Israel -- ought to be re-evaluated in light of America's spending priorities.

UPDATE: 10:30 p.m.

A spokesman for Mitt Romney, who said during the debate that he supported Perry's idea of starting all foreign aid at zero, has now walked back the implication that Romney would include Israel in that calculation.

"Governor Romney was talking about Pakistan when he said the foreign aid each year should start at zero," Romney spokesman Ryan Williams told Politico's Ben Smith. He added that he did not believe that Israel should see their foreign aid reduced to a starting point of zero.