Published July 29, 2012
July 28, 2012: Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and wife Ann arrive in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP)
Mitt Romney would support Israel’s decision to launch a military strike against Iran to keep that country from achieving nuclear capabilities but hopes diplomatic and military measure will dissuade Tehran from pursing its path toward nuclear acquisition, a top foreign policy adviser for the GOP presidential candidate said Sunday.
“Gov. Romney believes we should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course, and it is his fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so,” said adviser Dan Senor, previewing a speech Romney is scheduled to make Sunday afternoon. ”In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded. Gov. Romney recognizes Israel’s right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with it.
Romney said later that Iran “must not become a nuclear nation” and that the situation is the “greatest single” threat faced by the United States. But he stopped short of saying he would support a military strike and declined to highlight the specific differences between his and President Obama’s foreign policies.
“While I’m on foreign soil, I don’t feel I should be speaking about the differences,” he said in an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “This isn’t the right time.”
Romney is on a seven-day overseas trip that started Friday in England, will continue this weekend in Israel and conclude in Poland.
Senor said Romney thinks preventing nuclear “capability” — not just a nuclear weapon — is critical.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday welcomed Romney as “a representative of the United States” and said he agrees with his approach to the threat of a nuclear Iran.
Netanyahu said he listened to Romney’s speech this month in Reno, Nev., in which he said that Iran possessing nuclear capability is the greatest danger facing the world.
“Mitt, I couldn’t agree with you more,” Netanyahu told Romney on Sunday.
“We have to be honest and say that all the sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota. And that’s why I believe that we need a strong and credible military threat coupled with the sanctions to have a chance to change that situation,” Netanyahu said.
Romney in the morning visited Israel’s Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray. The event included Romney being shown a book that appeared to be a map of the wall. He was also read a passage by the rabbi of the wall. Romney wore a dark blue jacket, a tie and a yarmulke.
There were hundreds of Jewish worshippers praying at the site, also referred to as the Wailing Wall, on the holy fasting day of Tisha B’Av. The wall in Jerusalem is the outside wall that surrounding one of two temples destroyed by the Romans. Today is said to be the day the Romans destroyed the temples.
Romney’s visit is an effort to brandish in foreign policy credentials.
Meanwhile, an Israeli newspaper reports the Obama administration’s top security official has briefed Israel’s prime minister on U.S. plans for a possible attack on Iran.
However, the Israeli government has denied the report.
The Haaretz daily says National Security Adviser Tom Donilon sought to reassure Israel that Washington is prepared to act military should diplomacy and sanctions fail to pressure Iran to abandon its nuclear enrichment program.
Haaretz said Sunday that Donilon detailed the plans to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a visit to Israel earlier this month.
But a senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a confidential meeting, said, “Nothing in the article is correct. Donilon did not meet the prime minister for dinner, he did not meet him one-on-one, nor did he present operational plans to attack Iran.”
In the CBS interview, Romney often referred to President Reagan’s foreign policy strategy, pointing out that Reagan, like him, was a governor, not a senator. Romney also said his foreign policy would be guided by “intellect, resolve and clarity of purpose.”
He politely laughed off a question about an upcoming Newsweek cover that suggests he is a wimp and added the magazine — incorrectly — attempted to make the same point about President George H.W. Bush.
President Obama has also affirmed the right of Israel to defend itself, but in contrast to Romney, Obama has warned of the consequences of an Israeli strike on Iran.
“Already, there is too much loose talk of war,” Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March. “Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in and to sustain the broad international coalition we have built.”
While Romney is left to implicit contrasts with his Democratic opponent, Obama has been focusing on Israel, signing legislation on Friday increasing military and civilian ties between the U.S. and Israel. And he authorized the release of an additional $70 million in military aid for Israel, a previously announced move that appeared timed to Romney’s trip.
Pentagon officials have spoken publicly about the difficulty of such a strike and American officials have expressed concern about the destabilizing effect such military action could have in the region, even if carried out successfully.
Romney, like Obama, believes the option of a U.S. attack should also be “on the table.” He has said he will do “the opposite” of what Obama would do in his approach to Israel.
“Make no mistake: the ayatollahs in Tehran are testing our moral defenses. They want to know who will object, and who will look the other way,” Romney plans to say later Sunday in a speech in Jerusalem. “My message to the people of Israel and the leaders of Iran is one and the same: I will not look away; and neither will my country.”
The Obama administration hasn’t ruled out the military option, but Obama has so far been relying on economic sanctions and diplomatic negotiations to discourage Iran from building a nuclear bomb.
For its part, Iran says it is not interested in nuclear weapons and its nuclear program is for peaceful, civilian purposes.
The Israelis are considering a strike because they fear Iran could be moving its nuclear enrichment sites further underground, out of reach of the weapons Israel has available.
Romney’s verbal support for unilateral Israeli military action represents a break from Obama administration policy.
Iran’s nuclear program has become the most pressing problem for the U.S. and Israel and Republicans have consistently criticized Obama for putting too much pressure on Israel in the peace process and being too weak on Iran.
Obama rejects the criticism, and his aides point to what they call unprecedented U.S.-Israeli security cooperation.
Senor was previewing the speech Romney plans in Jerusalem after he spends the day meeting with Israeli officials.
Over the course of the day, Romney will confront some of the world’s most difficult peace and security challenges as he looks to demonstrate to Jewish and evangelical voters back home that he’s a better friend to Israel than Obama.
Romney faces high stakes as he begins his talks with top Israeli officials and meets with the Palestinian prime minister. Mindful of polls back home that show a tight presidential contest, the former one-term Massachusetts governor is looking to burnish his foreign policy credentials and prove his mettle as a possible commander in chief.
The trip is a chance for Romney to draw implicit contrasts with Obama and demonstrate how he would lead America on the world stage.
But Romney arrived in Jerusalem Saturday night after a difficult few days in Britain, where he made the mistake of criticizing the country’s Olympic Games and raised the hackles of his hosts. The gaffe undermined the stated goal of his weeklong journey through Britain, Israel and Poland: emphasizing America’s ties with longstanding allies.
Romney has pledged not to criticize Obama while on foreign soil, honoring longstanding American tradition of leaving politics at the water’s edge. But his aide’s announcement of Romney’s willingness to express support for an Israeli strike while in Jerusalem represents an effort to contrast the two presidential opponents.
In addition to Netanyahu, Romney met with other Israeli officials and will also sit down with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
“Like you we are very concerned about the development of nuclear capabilities on the part of Iran and feel it is unacceptable for Iran to become a nuclear armed nation,” Romney said at a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres. “The threat it would pose to Israel, the region and the world is incomparable and unacceptable.”
Romney planned to spend the evening dining at Netanyahu’s home — the Israeli leader invited Romney and his wife to break the fast for Tisha B’Av.
Romney and Netanyahu have known each other since both were young businessmen at Boston Consulting Group in the 1970s.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.