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Did Romney start off on the wrong foot in London? (+video)

In U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney's first stop on his tour abroad, he faced challenges both from British Prime Minister David Cameron and from London's mayor. Romney now begins his trip in damage control mode.

By Steve HollandReuters / July 26, 2012

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney meets with British Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street in London.

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

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LONDON

By the end of U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney's first full day in London on Thursday, he had been the target of a verbal jab from the British prime minister and had been mocked by the city's mayor, who spoke before a cheering crowd.

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So it is safe to say that Romney's trip - carefully choreographed to boost his image on an international stage - has not gone exactly as planned.

The Republican ruffled British feathers by appearing to suggest in a U.S. television interview on Wednesday that London was not ready for the Games, whose opening ceremony in the British capital is on Friday.

"It's hard to know just how well it will turn out," Romney, who led the Salt Lake City Winter Games in 2002, told NBC News of London's Olympic preparations. "There are a few things that were disconcerting," including the threat of a strike by immigration and customs officials.

The comments provoked an uproar in the feisty British media and drew a biting response from Prime Minister David Cameron, one of the government officials with whom Romney met briefly on Thursday.

Cameron, who was forced to deploy extra troops to bolster security at the Olympics to cover a shortfall left by a private contractor, defended Britain's handling of the Games and seemed to suggest that the challenge was significantly greater than what Romney faced at Salt Lake City's much smaller Winter Games a decade ago.

"We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world," the Conservative prime minister said during a news conference at the Olympic Park in London. "Of course, it is easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere."

London Mayor Boris Johnson cast aside diplomatic niceties when addressing a cheering crowd in Hyde Park, an Olympics venue in central London.

"I hear there's a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we're ready," Johnson said, in a moment that could have been scripted as a commercial for U.S. President Barack Obama, Romney's opponent in the Nov. 6 election.

"He wants to know whether we're ready," Johnson called out to the crowd. "Are we ready? Are we ready? Yes, we are."

The scene, and Cameron's remarks, put Romney in damage control mode at the start of a foray to Britain, Israel and Poland that is scheduled to be light on policy pronouncements and heavy on photo opportunities and fundraising.

Romney, who has made much of his record in helping to save the failing Salt Lake Games, predicted the London Games will be highly successful.

"We talked about the great progress that has been made in organizing the Games," Romney said after meeting Cameron in a Downing Street parlour where the arena for Olympic beach volleyball could seen out the back window.

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