US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Monday affirmed that as president of the United States he would prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability.
In a major foreign policy speech, titled "The Mantle of Leadership", in Lexington, Virginia, Romney warned that under President Barack Obama Iran's nuclear program had advanced to the point whereby the Islamic Republic is now "closer than ever to nuclear weapons capability."
Moreover, Romney said, as a result of Obama's Iran policy, Tehran "has never posed a greater danger to our friends, our allies, and to us. And it has never acted less deterred by America, as was made clear last year when Iranian agents plotted to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in our nation’s capital."
Despite the growing threat posed by the Iranian regime, Romney accused Obama of not supporting the Iranian people against the Mullahs: "When millions of Iranians took to the streets in June of 2009, when they demanded freedom from a cruel regime that threatens the world, when they cried out, 'Are you with us, or are you with them?' - the American President was silent."
In contrast, Romney vowed that as president he would put the leaders of Iran on notice: "We will prevent them from achieving a nuclear weapons capability," he asserted.
To this end, Romney stated that the US would work with its allies to increase sanctions against Tehran and would increase its military presence in the region. He also said the US would "work with Israel to increase military assistance and coordination," in order to reaffirm the ties between the two countries and overcome the “great strains” he said had arisen between Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
In his speech, Romney repeated his claim that Obama had placed "daylight" between the US and Israel. According to Romney, Obama "explicitly stated that his goal was to place daylight between US and Israel," a policy he described as "a dangerous situation that has set back peace in the middle east and emboldened our enemies."
Romney's charge against the president stems from comments Obama reportedly made to Jewish leaders early in his administration, in which he told them that the lack of daylight between the US and Israel hadn’t brought peace under George W. Bush and suggested that a different approach might be necessary to advance the peace process.
Romney countered, “The world must never see any daylight between our two nations.”
Asked about Obama’s daylight comments, which were confirmed by participants in the closed meeting but never stated publicly by the president, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt declined to “read out” the meeting.
But Madeleine Albright, who served as secretary of state under Bill Clinton and participated with LaBolt in an Obama campaign conference call with media following Romney’s speech, stressed the close ties between the US and Israel and how much the US had bolstered Israeli security assistance under Obama.
She also slammed Romney for a “flip-flop” on the peace process.
With respect to the Palestinians, Romney said that he is committed to seeing the creation of a "democratic and prosperous independent Palestinian state living side by side with a secure Jewish state."
He added that Obama's Middle East peacemaking had failed, and that only a new president would bring a chance to begin anew.
Romney has been a vocal critic of the US president's policies in the Middle East, often deriding him for what he says is a weakness in confronting Islamism and for allegedly downgrading ties with Israel, saying he is "throwing Israel under the bus." Obama maintains that US-Israel ties are as strong as ever, citing record defense aid to Jerusalem.
Polls show Romney popularity growing
Romney leads Obama by 4 percentage points among likely voters in a Pew Research Center poll that shows the Republican challenger getting a bounce from last week’s debate.
The survey taken Oct. 4-7, following the Oct. 3 presidential debate in Denver, gave the former Massachusetts governor 49 percent among likely voters and Obama 45 percent. Among registered voters, 66 percent said Romney won the debate and 20 percent said Obama did.
A Pew poll of likely voters taken Sept. 12-16 gave Obama a 51 percent to 43 percent lead, the widest margin of any nominee since Bill Clinton in 1996.
The latest Pew poll showed Romney even with Obama among women likely voters at 47 percent apiece, while leading among men, 51 percent to 43 percent.
Meanwhile, Gallup's daily tracking survey showed Romney pulling even with Obama since their first presidential debate.
In the three days after the Obama-Romney debate on October 3, Gallup found 47 percent of registered voters supporting the president and 47 percent backing his Republican rival. In the three days before the Denver debate, Obama held a 50-45- percentage-point advantage over Romney, the pollster reported.
An October 4-5 Gallup poll found “roughly 2 in 3 Americans reporting that they watched the October 3 debate, similar to what Gallup measured for each of the three 2008 presidential debates,” the polling organization’s Jeffrey Jones said today.
Bloomberg contributed to this report