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Romney: US has 'moral imperative' to aid Israel in its defense against a nuclear Iran

 

Mitt Romney on Sunday gave his unequivocal support to Israel and its effort to thwart Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability, saying the United States has "a solemn duty and a moral imperative" to help in that effort.

The GOP presidential candidate made his comments in a much-anticipated speech in Jerusalem.  

"Make no mistake, the ayatollahs in Iran are testing our moral defenses,” Romney said. "They want to know who will object and who will look the other way. We will not look away nor will our country ever look away from our passion and commitment to Israel. … We recognize Israel's right to defend itself."

He also declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel.  

Earlier in the day, top foreign policy adviser Dan Senor in a preview of the speech suggested Romney would support Israel making a military strike on Iran to defend itself against a nuclear-capable Tehran.

“Gov. 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,” Senor said. “In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded.”

 Romney later attempted to clarify his position.

“I respect the right of Israel to defend itself, and we stand with Israel in peace,” Romney said in an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Romney is on a seven-day overseas trip in which he hopes to burnish his foreign policy credentials. The trip started Friday in England, will continue this weekend in Israel and conclude in Poland.  

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday welcomed Romney as "a representative of the United States" and said he agrees with his approach to the threat of a nuclear Iran.

Netanyahu said he listened to a recent Romney speech in which he said that Iran possessing nuclear capability is the greatest danger facing the world.

"Mitt, I couldn't agree with you more," Netanyahu told Romney on Sunday.

"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,” Netanyahu continued. “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 spent the earlier part of the day visiting Israel’s Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray. The event included a rabbi reading a passage to Romney, who wore a dark blue jacket, tie and a yarmulke. 

Hundreds of Jewish worshippers were praying at the site, also referred to as the Wailing Wall, on the holy fasting day of Tisha B'Av. The wall in Jerusalem is the outside wall that surrounds one of two temples destroyed by the Romans. Today is said to be the day the Romans destroyed the temples.

Romney also met  with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Meanwhile, an Israeli newspaper reports the Obama administration's top security official has briefed Israel's prime minister on U.S. plans for a possible attack on Iran.

However, the Israeli government has denied the report.

The Haaretz daily says National Security Adviser Tom Donilon sought to reassure Israel that Washington is prepared to act military should diplomacy and sanctions fail to pressure Iran to abandon its nuclear enrichment program.

Haaretz said Sunday that Donilon detailed the plans to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a visit to Israel earlier this month.

But a senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a confidential meeting, said, "Nothing in the article is correct. Donilon did not meet the prime minister for dinner, he did not meet him one-on-one, nor did he present operational plans to attack Iran."

In the CBS interview, Romney often referred to President Reagan’s foreign policy strategy, pointing out that Reagan, like him, was a governor, not a senator. Romney also said his foreign policy would be guided by “intellect, resolve and clarity of purpose.”

He politely laughed off a question about the upcoming Newsweek cover that suggests he is a wimp and added the magazine incorrectly attempted to make the same point about then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.  

Romney flew to the Middle East from Britain, where he caused a stir by questioning whether officials there were fully prepared for the Olympic Games.

In declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel, Romney was keeping with claims made by Israeli governments, even though the United States, like other nations, maintains its embassies in Tel Aviv. He did not say if he would order it moved if he wins the White House.

Even so, his remarks drew a standing ovation from his audience, which included Sheldon Adelson, the American businessman who has said he will donate millions to help elect Romney to the White House.

In his speech, Romney said Syrian President Bashar Assad "desperately clings to power" in Damascus in the face of an attempted overthrow, but he did not call for his removal.

He noted that Egypt is now headed by an "Islamist president, chosen in a Democratic election.”

“The international community must use its considerable influence to insure that the new government honors the peace agreement with Israel that was signed by the government of Anwar Sadat" more than three decades ago, he said.

Another goal of Romney trip is  to cut into President Obama's support among Jewish voters and donors. A Gallup survey of Jewish voters showed Obama with a 68-25 edge over Romney, according to the poll released Friday.

Romney and other Republicans have said Obama is insufficiently supportive of Israel, noting statements the president has made about settlements and his handling of evident Iranian attempt to develop nuclear weapons.

In an unspoken rebuttal to Obama and other critics, Romney said "It is sometimes said that those who are the most committed to stopping the Iranian regime from security nuclear weapons are reckless and provocative and inviting war.

"The opposite is true. We are the true peacemakers," he said.

Obama. In a speech in March before a pro-Israel lobby in Washington, warned of "loose talk of war" that serves only to drive up oil prices. "Now is not the time to bluster," he said then. "Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in and sustain the broad international coalition we have built."

It was unlikely that the day's events would settle the issue.

Obama's former press secretary, Robert Gibbs, told ABC's "This Week" that the administration has delayed Iran's nuclear program. The president has imposed U.S. penalties against Iran and worked to tougher strictures applied by other nations. There have been numerous published reports of a coordinated U.S.-Israeli cyber attack that caused damage to Iranian equipment vital to creating weapons-grade nuclear material.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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