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Monday, July 30, 2012
Mitt Romney has tried to pull back from making new American policy on Iran, distancing himself from an adviser’s assertion that the US presidential candidate would "respect" an Israeli decision for unilateral military action to prevent Tehran from gaining nuclear capability.
Hours after the aide previewed Romney’s upcoming foreign policy speech in Jerusalem, Romney back- pedalled and said: "I’ll use my own words and that is I respect the right of Israel to defend itself and we stand with Israel. We’re two nations that come together in peace and that want to see Iran being dissuaded from its nuclear folly."
The address by the Republican challenger to President Barack Obama was promoted as the centrepiece of a week-long trip abroad designed to burnish his foreign policy credentials and highlight his ability to lead on the world stage. But the mixed signals on Iran could undermine that goal.
"Because I’m on foreign soil, I don’t want to be creating new foreign policy for my country or in any way to distance myself from the foreign policy of our nation, but we respect the right of a nation to defend itself," the former Massachusetts governor told CBS Face the Nation a few hours before the speech.
Obama has affirmed the right of Israel to defend itself, while also warning 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."
The Romney adviser, Dan Senor, told reporters earlier in previewing the address that "if Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing the capability, the governor would respect that decision". He said Romney is careful to note that he believes preventing nuclear "capability", not just a nuclear weapon, is critical.
Senor later clarified his comments in a written statement: "[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. In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded."
Romney said in the interview: "We should use every diplomatic and political vehicle that’s available to us to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear-capable state. Those actions should be executed with the greatest speed we could muster... If all those options fail then we do have other options and we don’t take those other options off the table."
Romney has said he will do "the opposite" of what Obama would do in his approach to Israel. 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.
"Are there differences between us? Of course. But being on foreign soil, particularly being here in Israel, this isn’t the time for me to draft those out," Romney said.
In his speech, the candidate tells Israelis: "Make no mistake: The ayatollahs in Tehran are testing our moral defences. They want to know who will object, and who will look the other way."
While the address was before an audience of Israelis, the message was aimed at Jewish and evangelical Christian voters in the US as he tried to highlight policy differences with Obama.
He says the nuclear threat has increased in recent years and that Iran’s claims that its programme is for peaceful purposes "are belied by years of malign deceptions".
"The conduct of Iran’s leaders gives us no reason to trust them with nuclear material," he says in the speech, which followed a series of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials.
Romney, who received a warm welcome prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has said he has a "zero tolerance" policy toward Iran obtaining the capability to build a nuclear weapon.
Romney’s embrace of Israel was on display yesterday as he met with leaders and visited the Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism.
Romney also met with Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad.
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