LONDON – With the Olympic Games as a backdrop, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Thursday plunged into a series of meetings with British leaders, including Prime Minister David Cameron.
The likely GOP nominee sought to send a message that he recognizes the close bonds between the U.S. and its top ally — and to project an image of leadership.
"I've got a number of conversations with leaders present and past of Great Britain," Romney said Thursday, "and recognize of course the unique relationship that exists between our nations, our commitment to common values, our commitment to peace in the world and a desire to see a stronger and growing economy."
Romney's weeklong overseas trip will also take him to Israel and Poland.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair hosted Romney at his private office few blocks off Hyde Park. The former Labour Party prime minister now serves as a special envoy to the Middle East, and the Romney campaign said the two men discussed the Middle East peace process, the situation in Syria, Iran and the wider region. They also discussed economic issues facing both countries, and chatted about the upcoming Olympic competitions.
Romney then met with Ed Miliband, the current leader of the Labour Party — the opposition to Cameron's Conservative Party. Before that session, Miliband invited two reporters from what he called "my side" to ask questions, although Romney declined to take questions from American journalists.
Romney then moved on to a meeting with Foreign Secretary William Hague. The candidate was also slated to meet with Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, Britain's top financial official.
Accompanying Romney to some of his meetings are former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent, an adviser, and Kerry Healey, who served as lieutenant governor when Romney was governor of Massachusetts.
Romney, whose decades in private business gave him ample exposure to international affairs, is a former one-term governor untested on the world's political stage. He hopes to convince voters back home that he is no novice on foreign affairs and that they should elect him as president in a complex, dangerous world.
"The world is a tumultuous and dangerous place," Romney said Thursday. "And certainly in many of the regions around the world we have great interests in having a common effort in seeing greater peace and prosperity."
Romney also will spend part of his time in London raising money and highlighting a key part of his resume — the successful Salt Lake City Olympics he managed — with an appearance Friday at the opening ceremonies of the London Games.
Meeting with British officials is typically one of the first priorities of any new president, and establishing those relationships beforehand can help smooth any transition. It's not unusual for American presidential candidates to meet with British leaders during the campaign; Obama did so when he took a trip abroad as the likely Democratic nominee in 2008.
This isn't Romney's first meeting with Cameron; the two also talked during a Romney visit to London in 2011. This year, Cameron traveled to the U.S., where he met Obama and attended a state dinner in Washington but did not meet with Romney.
Romney's meeting with a deputy prime minister is somewhat unusual. It's happening because Britain has a coalition government, and Clegg's Liberal Democrats govern alongside Cameron's Conservative party.
The meetings come a day after the Daily Telegraph newspaper published a story quoting an unidentified Romney campaign adviser saying the Republican believes the U.S. relationship with Britain is special because of shared "Anglo-Saxon heritage" and the White House doesn't appreciate that shared history.
Romney, however, quickly distanced himself from any such view.
"I don't agree with whoever that adviser might be," Romney told NBC News, "but do agree that we have a very common bond between ourselves and Great Britain."
Nonetheless, Vice President Joe Biden and top Obama aides criticized Romney. "The comments reported this morning are a disturbing start to a trip designed to demonstrate Gov. Romney's readiness to represent the United States on the world's stage," Biden said.
Later Thursday, Romney planned to hold a high-dollar fundraiser at the swanky Mandarin Oriental hotel in London's tony Knightsbridge district. One of the hosts of that fundraiser, former Barclays CEO Bob Diamond, withdrew from the event after he resigned in the wake of a rate-rigging scandal wracking British banks.