Mitt Romney plunged into an
international stalemate during a 30-hour trip to Jerusalem,
saying halting a nuclear Iran is the “highest national-security
priority” of the U.S. as he sought to draw a sharp distinction
with President Barack Obama.
As the sun set against the ancient stone walls of the old
city, the Republican presidential candidate delivered a foreign-
policy broadside, declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel and
saying it is “right” for America to back a unilateral Israeli
military strike on Iran to stop the country from developing
“It is sometimes said that those who are the most
committed to stopping the Iranian regime from securing nuclear
weapons are reckless and provocative and inviting war,” he said
in his speech. “The opposite is true.”
The address was the centerpiece of a six-day, three-country
international tour designed to boost Romney’s diplomatic
credentials and portray the former Massachusetts governor and
private-equity executive as a credible commander-in-chief to
voters back home.
During his stop in Israel, Romney made a surprise visit to
the Western Wall, one of Judaism’s most sacred sites, met with
top Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and shared a private meal
with his family at the home of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
While Romney received diplomatic briefings, campaign staff
cared for top fundraisers, including Las Vegas casino executive
Sheldon Adelson, one of the biggest donors supporting
Republicans. Several dozen contributors joined Romney on the
trip, where they were ushered to front-row seats at his speech
and taken on tours of the city. Before flying to Poland
tomorrow, the last leg of his tour, Romney plans to hold a
breakfast reception and question-and-answer session at the King
David hotel with several dozen Americans.
The Israel visit thrust Romney, a relative foreign-policy
novice, into one of the world’s most challenging conflicts. He
arrived at a time of heightened tensions, with leaders
reassessing their regional strategy in the wake of escalating
violence in Syria and the July 18 suicide attack on Israeli
tourists in Bulgaria.
Romney had vowed to refrain from releasing new policies or
attacking Obama while abroad, in line with the custom of not
speaking ill of a sitting president from overseas.
Yet, his muscular language supporting an Israeli military
attack while on Israeli soil marks an effort to heighten the
contrast between him and Obama.
While the Obama administration hasn’t ruled out a military
strike, the two allies have disagreed openly about how much time
to give economic sanctions and negotiations to persuade Iran to
scrap much of its atomic work.
“Words matter, and I think priorities matter,” Romney
spokesman Kevin Madden said on ABC’s “This Week.” “The reason
he’s there now to make sure that he sends a strong statement as
a potential future president to the people of Israel.”
At a briefing for reporters previewing the speech this
morning, foreign policy adviser Dan Senor told reporters that
“if Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran
from developing the capability, the governor would respect that
Romney tried to temper that language in a television
interview several hours later, saying he wasn’t distancing
himself from current U.S. policy.
“What we have said and with which I concur is that we
should use every diplomatic and political vehicle that’s
available to us to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear capability
state,” he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
The failure of talks between Iran and six world powers to
curb what the West sees as the Islamic republic’s push to
develop atomic weapons has fueled concerns that Israel would opt
for a solo strike. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful,
for generating electricity and medical purposes.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak says his country has
more to fear from a nuclear Iran than from the consequences of a
pre-emptive strike against its atomic facilities. The Israeli
government will need to make a decision, he said on July 25,
though the Obama administration wants to see if Iran backs down
as international sanctions increasingly hurt its economy, saying
there is time for military action as a last alternative.
The dispute over timing has further soured the already
rocky relationship between the Obama administration and
Campaign aides have emphasized Romney’s relationship with
the Israeli leader, dating back to when they worked together at
Boston Consulting Group in the 1970s, as a way of building
support among American Jews.
The two are sharing a meal with their families this
evening, to mark the end of the Tisha B’Av, a day of mourning
and fasting that commemorates the destruction of the First and
Second Jewish temples of Jerusalem.
In a joint media appearance this evening, Netanyahu subtly
highlighted their long friendship by referencing to Romney, as
“I want to thank you for those very strong words of
support and friendship for Israel and for Jerusalem that we
heard today in your speech,” said Netanyahu said.
Romney visited one of the holiest sites of the Jewish
people, stopping by the Western Wall to leave a prayer in the
ancient temple. As Romney made his way down to the wall, donors
were escorted around the site by finance director Spencer Zwick
and Romney’s brother, Scott.
New York lawyer Phil Rosen, a campaign fundraising bundler,
was permitted past the machine-gun carrying Israeli soldiers
protecting a security perimeter, to embrace Romney. The two took
a quick snap-shot to remember the moment.
Flanked by two rabbis and wearing a black yarmulke, Romney
walked to the wall amid applause and shouts from a gathered
“This is the campaign for American Jews,” Channah Nebi
said in Hebrew, as she peered over the divide separating men and
women to watch Romney.
In a bid to counter Republican criticism, the Obama
administration has bookended Romney’s trip with visits from top
officials. In the past two weeks, Obama has sent Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton and security advisers John Brennan and
Thomas Donilon on separate visits to the country. Defense
Secretary Leon Panetta travels to Israel next week.
On July 27, Obama signed legislation to bolster U.S.
military cooperation with Israel and highlighted the release of
$70 million for the nation’s missile defense on the eve of
Romney’s arrival in Tel Aviv. The signing ceremony coincided
with the release of a White House statement recounting steps the
administration has taken to strengthen Israel’s security and was
the latest move by Obama to emphasize his commitment before
Obama “has had the strongest commitment of any U.S.
president to Israel’s security,” Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs said on ABC’s “This Week.”
To contact the reporter on this story:
Lisa Lerer in Jerusalem at
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Jeanne Cummings at