Romney pulls back from aggressive statement on Iran
'I don't want to be creating new foreign policy for my country,' Romney said, distancing himself from remarks made by an aide earlier today saying he would 'respect' an Israeli military strike on Iran.
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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.Skip to next paragraph
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"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 that "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."
According to excerpts released by the campaign before the speech, Romney says his message "to the people of Israel and the leaders of Iran is one and the same: I will not look away; and neither will my country."
While the address was before an audience of Israelis, the message was aimed squarely at Jewish and evangelical Christian voters in the United States 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 program 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 Netanyahu, has said he has a "zero tolerance" policy toward Iran obtaining the capability to build a nuclear weapon.
Pentagon officials have spoken publicly about the difficulty of such a strike and American officials have expressed concern about the destabilizing effect such military action could have in the region, even if carried out successfully.
Iran says it is not interested in nuclear weapons and its nuclear program is for peaceful, civilian purposes. The Israelis say they are considering a strike because they fear Iran could be moving its nuclear enrichment sites further underground, out of reach of the weapons Israel has available.
Romney's embrace of Israel was on display Sunday as he met with leaders and visited the Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism.
Wearing a yarmulke, the candidate was mobbed by worshippers as he walked down to pray and place a note into one of the wall's crevices.
Earlier, Netanyahu welcomed Romney as "a representative of the United States" and told the Republican that he agrees with his approach to the Iranian nuclear threat.
"Mitt, I couldn't agree with you more," Netanyahu said.
"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," Netanyahu said.
Romney also met with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Iran's nuclear program has become the most pressing problem for the U.S. and Israel. Republicans have criticized the Democratic president for putting too much pressure on Israel in the peace process and being weak on Iran.
Obama rejects the criticism, and his aides point to what they call unprecedented U.S.-Israeli security cooperation.
Just on Friday, Obama said he was releasing plans to send $70 million in military aid for Israel. The new money is aimed at helping Israel expand production of a short-range rocket defense system, called Iron Dome, that can block fire from nearby Gaza and other places.
Romney arrived in Jerusalem on Saturday night after a difficult few days in Britain, where he made the mistake of questioning the host country's preparation for the Olympic Games. The gaffe undermined the goal of his weeklong journey through Britain, Israel and Poland — to show he can operate effectively on the world stage.