LONDON—Mitt Romney has repeatedly insisted he won't criticize President Barack Obama or his policies while traveling overseas. But the presumptive Republican nominee came close to breaking that vow on Thursday night, telling supporters at a fundraiser here he would return a bust of Winston Churchill to the Oval Office.
"I'm looking forward to the bust of Winston Churchill being in the Oval Office again," Romney told donors at a fundraising event in London's Mayfair section that netted roughly $2 million for his campaign.
Romney's comments were a nod to the controversy that erupted in 2009 after people learned that President Barack Obama had removed a bust of the former British prime minister that had been prominently displayed in the Oval Office by his predecessor, George W. Bush. The bust was returned to the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., a move that raised eyebrows among British diplomats.
While Romney did not directly mention Obama, it was the closest he came to an obvious critique of the current administration. Throughout the day, Romney stuck to his pledge not to trash his Democratic opponent, going so far as to not discuss any details about his own foreign policy views publicly. Asked about his private meetings, a senior aide to the GOP nominee insisted Romney kept his pledge behind closed doors as well.
In a readout of Romney's day, the senior aide, who declined to be named, described the former governor's meetings with top British officials as an "exchange of ideas." That included talk of the unrest in Syria, which was brought up in all of Romney's meetings today—including one with the head of the British Intelligence Service, known as the M16. The appointment wasn't listed on Romney's schedule Thursday, but was randomly revealed by the candidate during a brief press availability outside No. 10 Downing Street just after his meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron.
The Romney campaign declined to disclose any further details about the candidate's meeting with M16 officials.
On Syria, the senior Romney aide told reporters the subject came up as a "matter of shared concern"—but said Romney did not offer and was not asked about his "personal view" of the crisis.
When discussing what British officials asked Romney, the aide said they quizzed him on the "U.S. political environment" and "how things are going on the campaign."
One topic that did not come up in Romney's meeting with Cameron: the GOP candidate's comment to NBC News that he found preparations for the London Olympics "disconcerting." While Cameron criticized the statement in a press conference Thursday, the prime minister did not mention it to Romney, according to the senior Romney aide.
"The issue did not come up in our meeting with the prime minister," the aide said.