Romney: Diplomatic support as important as military

Republican presidential hopeful talks tough on Iran but stops short of pledging military action; PM stresses bilateral friendship.

Mitt Romney puts a note in the Western Wall (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Mitt Romney puts a note in the Western Wall
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
US military and intelligence support for Israel is not enough, and Washington must ensure there is no public diplomatic distance between the two countries so Israel’s adversaries don’t get emboldened, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said Sunday in Jerusalem, in a barely veiled swipe at President Barack Obama.
Romney, who has said repeatedly in recent days that he had no intention of criticizing Obama on foreign soil, did not mention the president by name once in a 20-minute outdoor foreign policy address he gave in the shadows of Jerusalem’s Old City.
But he didn’t need to, because it was clear that he was referring to the often rocky relationship between Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu when he said, “Diplomatic distance in public between our nations emboldens Israel’s adversaries.”
Obama, in the early days of his tenure, was quoted as saying that there was nothing wrong in showing “daylight” between the US and Israel.
“Standing by Israel does not mean with military and intelligence cooperation alone,” Romney said, apparently referring to the ties that both Israeli and US officials say have reached unprecedented heights under Obama. “We cannot stand silent as those who seek to undermine Israel voice their criticisms. And we certainly should not join in that criticism,” he said.
Romney, at the event attended by some 300 guests invited by those close to his campaign, seemed to strive hard to place distance between himself and Obama.
He stressed the Jewish people’s connection to Israel, something Obama famously did not do in his Cairo speech in 2009.
“To step foot into Israel is to step foot into a nation that began with an ancient promise made in this land,” Romney said. “The Jewish people persisted through one of the most monstrous crimes in human history, and now this nation has come to take its place among the most impressive democracies on earth. Israel’s achievements are a wonder of the modern world.”
He stressed his relationship with Netanyahu, whom he referred to as “my friend” and characterized as “one of the strongest voices” articulating the values the US and Israel share.
After the speech, in comments he made before meeting the prime minister for the second time that day, for dinner, Romney made it a point to refer to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, putting distance between him and the Obama administration, whose spokesmen in recent weeks have been unable to name Israel’s capital.
Chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat criticized Romney’s comments.
“Mitt Romney’s words are damaging, they harm peace, stability and security,” Erekat was quoted by Israel Radio as saying. “We reject these statements completely.”
One of the main focuses of Romney’s speech, as in his meetings throughout the day with Israel’s leaders, was on Iran. Here he pushed a hard rhetorical line but stopped well short of saying whether he would order a military strike to prevent Tehran from getting nuclear weapons.
“When Iran’s leaders deny the Holocaust or speak of wiping this nation off the map, only the naïve – or worse – will dismiss it as an excess of rhetoric,” Romney said. “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 said his message to both Israel and Iran was that neither he nor his country would “look the other way.”
Saying that “we have a solemn duty and moral imperative to deny Iran’s leaders the means to follow through on their malevolent intentions,” he was short on details about how this should be done.
“We should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course, and it is our fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so,” he said. “In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded.
We recognize Israel’s right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with you.”
Dan Senor, a top foreign policy aide to Romney, told reporters on a flight from London to Tel Aviv that Romney would back an Israeli attack on Iran.
Romney, asked about that in an ABC interview from Jerusalem on Sunday, said: “I think I’ll use my own terms in that regard, and that is that I recognize the right of Israel to defend itself.”
The early evening speech, delivered at a time when many in his audience were in the 23rd hour of their Tisha Be’av fast, came at the tail-end of a day crammed with meetings that began with a meeting with Netanyahu, which was dominated by talk about Iran.
Romney, in statements to the cameras before the meeting, said he wanted to hear Netanyahu’s perceptions and ideas regarding the situation. A former one-term governor from Massachusetts, Romney’s current trip to England, Israel and Poland is widely seen as an effort to bolster his foreign policy credentials and begin to create the perception in the eyes of American voters of a man with statesmanlike qualities.
He said he wanted to talk with Netanyahu about “further actions that we can take to dissuade Iran from their nuclear folly.”
Netanyahu, who referred to Romney as “Mitt” and said they have been friends for decades, said he appreciated comments the candidate made recently to the effect that “the greatest danger facing the world is of the ayatollah regime possessing nuclear weapons capability.”
Saying that he could not agree with that comment more, Netanyahu added that “I think it’s important to do everything in our power to prevent the ayatollahs from possessing the capability. 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.”
Romney, who arrived on Saturday evening and had to cancel a planned fund-raiser Sunday evening because of the Tisha Be’Av fast, said he was “honored to be here on the day of Tisha Be’av, to recognize the solemnity of the day and also the suffering of the Jewish people over the centuries and the millennia.”
Unfortunately, he said, “the tragedies of wanton killing are not only things of the past, but have darkened our skies in even more recent times.”
Following the morning meeting with the prime minister, he went to a meeting with President Shimon Peres.
Romney, who did not mention the Palestinian issue once during his speech, was quoted by Peres’s office as saying he was in favor of two states for two peoples, but that Hamas could not be part of that equation. “Everything must be done to strengthen the peace between Israel and the Palestinians and between Israel and its neighbors,” he said.
Romney met during the day with PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, as well as with Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz.
A planned meeting with Labor chairwoman Shelly Yechimovich was canceled at the last minute.
Romney also paid a visit to the Western Wall, packed on Sunday because of Tisha Be’av. Asked in the ABC interview about that visit and whether he shared with his wife, Ann, what he was going to write on the note he left in the Wall, Romney said that he and his wife read to each other what they wrote. “My thoughts were in regards to peace, my family, my wife and the source of our salvation,” he said.
Romney is scheduled to hold a $50,000-a-couple fund-raiser on Monday morning at the King David Hotel before leaving for Poland – the final leg of his foreign trip. Among those expected to be in attendance at the fund-raiser is US billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who has contributed significantly to the campaign and who had a front row seat, along with his wife, Miriam, at Romney’s speech.