Adviser: Romney would back strike against Iran

Associated Press
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney meets with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Jerusalem, Sunday, July 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
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JERUSALEM (AP) — Mitt Romney would back an Israeli military strike against Iran aimed at preventing Tehran from obtaining nuclear capability, a top foreign policy adviser said Sunday, outlining the aggressive posture the Republican presidential candidate will take toward Iran in a speech in Israel later in the day.

Romney has said he has a "zero tolerance" policy toward Iran obtaining the capability to build a nuclear weapon.

"If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing the capability, the governor would respect that decision," foreign policy adviser Dan Senor told reporters ahead of the speech, planned for late Sunday near Jerusalem's Old City.

Romney believes the option of a U.S. attack should also be "on the table." He has said he will do "the opposite" of what U.S. President Barack 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 sanctions and diplomatic negotiations to discourage Iran from building a nuclear bomb.

For its part, Iran says it is not interested in nuclear weapons and its nuclear program is for peaceful, civilian purposes.

The Israelis 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.

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

Netanyahu said he listened to Romney's speech in Reno, Nev., where the likely GOP nominee said that Iran possessing nuclear capability is the greatest danger facing the world.

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

"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.

An Israeli newspaper reported Sunday that the Obama administration's top security official briefed Netanyahu earlier this month on U.S. plans for a possible attack on Iran.

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

A senior Israeli government official, however, denied the report, saying "Nothing in the article is correct."

Iran's nuclear program has become the most pressing problem for the U.S. and Israel and Republicans have consistently criticized Obama for putting too much pressure on Israel in the peace process and being too weak on Iran.

Obama rejects the criticism, and his aides point to what they call unprecedented U.S.-Israeli security cooperation.

Senor was previewing the speech Romney plans in Jerusalem after he spends the day meeting with Israeli officials.

"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." Romney says in an excerpt of his speech provided to reporters. "My 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."

Over the course of the day, Romney will confront some of the world's most difficult peace and security challenges as he looks to demonstrate to Jewish and evangelical voters back home that he's a better friend to Israel than Obama.

Romney faces high stakes as he begins his talks with top Israeli officials and meets with the Palestinian prime minister. Mindful of polls back home that show a tight presidential contest, the former one-term Massachusetts governor is looking to burnish his foreign policy credentials and prove his mettle as a possible commander in chief.

The trip is a chance for Romney to draw implicit contrasts with Obama and demonstrate how he would lead America on the world stage.

But Romney arrived in Jerusalem Saturday night after a difficult few days in Britain, where he made the mistake of criticizing the country's Olympic Games and raised the hackles of his hosts. The gaffe undermined the stated goal of his weeklong journey through Britain, Israel and Poland: emphasizing America's ties with longstanding allies.

"In a time of turmoil and peril in Israel's neighborhood, it is important that the security of America's commitments to Israel will be as clear as humanly possible. When Israel feels less secure in the neighborhood, it should feel more secure of the commitment of the United States to its defense," Romney said in a Friday interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Romney has pledged not to criticize Obama while on foreign soil, honoring longstanding American tradition of leaving politics at the water's edge. But his aide's announcement of Romney's willingness to express support for an Israeli strike while in Jerusalem represents an effort to contrast the two presidential opponents.

In addition to Netanyahu, Romney met with other Israeli officials and will also sit down with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Romney planned to spend the evening dining at Netanyahu's home — the Israeli leader invited Romney and his wife to break the fast for the Jewish holiday Tisha B'Av. The holy day, celebrated Sunday, commemorates the destruction of two temples in Jerusalem.

Romney and Netanyahu have known each other since both were young businessmen at Boston Consulting Group in the 1970s.

On Monday, Romney plans a fundraiser with top American supporters in Israel, some guests have flown in from the U.S. specifically for the event. His campaign has barred reporters from covering his comments to the 50 or so wealthy backers who will gather at the luxurious King David Hotel — all of whom will have donated $50,000 or raised at least $100,000.

Keeping the remarks private is a change from how Romney handles fundraisers in the United States, where a group of reporters are allowed into events held in public spaces like hotels.

While Romney is left to implicit contrasts with his Democratic opponent, Obama has been focusing on Israel, signing legislation on Friday increasing military and civilian ties between the U.S. and Israel. And he authorized the release of an additional $70 million in military aid for Israel, a previously announced move that appeared timed to Romney's trip.

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