Likely Republican US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney met on Thursday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in his Jerusalem residence, the first of a long list of presidential candidates expected in Israel this year to bolster their Mideast and foreign policy credentials prior to the primaries and November 2012 elections.

Netanyahu put out a brief statement saying they had discussed advancing a diplomatic process with the Palestinians based on security, and the Iranian nuclear challenge. Romney declined interview requests.

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Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, has not yet declared his candidacy, but is expected to do so as early as April. A strong friend of Israel, he ran unsuccessfully in the 2008 Republican primaries.

Before coming to Israel, Romney went to Afghanistan and met President Hamid Karzai. During his week-long trip, he is also visiting Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

He was here last in 2007 as a speaker at the Herzliya Conference, where he spoke about the Iranian threat.

A source close to Netanyahu said the prime minister knew very well the importance of the bilateral US-Israel relationship and made it a point to meet the candidates of both parties. Netanyahu met with US President Barack Obama when he visited Israel as a candidate in July 2008.

Also on Thursday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Israel’s experience had taught it to be cautious in the diplomatic process.

Asked by an Al-Jazeera reporter during a visit in Doha why Arab countries should listen to her criticism when the US couldn’t get Israel to make peace with the Palestinians, Clinton responded, “Israel is a sovereign country and it makes its own decisions.

“I wish there were a way we could tell a lot of countries what they should do, because there are a lot of countries doing things that are not in the best interests of their own people, their neighbors or the world,” she added.

Israel had reasons to be cautious, Clinton said.

“You often make decisions based on your own experience and history,” she said. “And when the Israelis pulled out of Lebanon they got Hizbullah and 40,000 rockets, and when they pulled out of Gaza they got Hamas and 20,000 rockets.”

Still, she said, the US would continue to work toward a two-state solution.

“We have spent a lot of time, and we will continue to spend a lot of time, working to build enough confidence on both sides that they can make decisions that will by necessity mean compromises,” the secretary said.

AP contributed to this report.

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