Amid questions over whether he would support a possible Israeli military strike against Iran, Mitt Romney delivered a speech Sunday in Jerusalem taking a hard line against the Islamic nation and offering strong deference to Israel in decisions regarding its security.
“We must not delude ourselves into thinking that containment is an option,” Romney said. “We must lead the effort to prevent Iran from building and possessing nuclear weapons capability. We should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course, and it is our fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so. In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded. We recognize Israel’s right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with you.”
Highlighting the bond between the U.S. and Israel, he declined to get more specific about his policy toward Israel while on foreign soil.
Earlier Sunday, Romney’s national security adviser Dan Senor sent the press into a state of confusion when he said that if Israel took military action against Iran to prevent them from further developing their nuclear capability, Romney would “respect” that decision. The campaign walked back that comment, saying it did not necessarily signal military support in that scenario or a green light for Israel to attack Iran.
In two interviews Sunday, Romney declined to elaborate further on Senor’s remarks or to state specifically the extent of his support for Israel against Iran.
“I think because I’m on foreign soil I don’t want to be creating new foreign policy for my country or in any way to distance myself in the foreign policy of our nation,” Romney told CBS’s Jan Crawford. “But we respect the right of a nation to defend itself.”
The candidate had a similar response to ABC’s David Muir. “I respect the right of Israel to defend itself and America always on the side of Israel but I’m not going to be more specific than that with regards to the actions Israel might take,” Romney said.
Romney’s speech offered a few remarks seemingly aimed at President Obama and Democrats. In a line similar to one he has used on the campaign trail, Romney said there should be no daylight between the U.S. and Israel diplomatically — something Republicans say the Obama administration has allowed to happen. “Diplomatic distance in public between our nations emboldens Israel’s adversaries,” Romney said.
On the issue of Iran, Romney anticipated and rebuffed critiques that he is too hawkish. “It is sometimes said that those who are the most committed to stopping the Iranian regime from securing nuclear weapons are reckless and provocative and inviting war,” Romney said. “The opposite is true. We are the true peacemakers. History teaches with force and clarity that when the world’s most despotic regimes secure the world’s most destructive weapons, peace often gives way to oppression, to violence, or to devastating war.”
But Romney’s commitment not to criticize President Obama while abroad did not stop the two campaigns from exchanging tough words Sunday over on the topic of Israel and Iran, with the Romney campaign arguing that President Obama’s efforts to deter Iran’s nuclear progress through sanctions have been futile.
Democrats on Sunday stood up for the president’s support of Israel. “This president has had the strongest commitment of any US president to Israel’s security,” Obama campaign senior adviser Robert Gibbs said on ABC’s “This Week.” “We have made progress in delaying that nuclear program. And obviously, our goal, the world’s goal, is to prevent Iran from having a nuclear program and I think we’re making progress on that. Of course Israel has the right to defend itself.”
The Romney campaign took issue with Gibb’s remarks, quoting remarks from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said on Sunday after a meeting with Romney that sanctions alone are not deterring Iran.
“On the same day Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu claimed that Iran’s nuclear ambitions have not been set back ‘one iota,’ the Obama campaign is taking a victory lap on the President’s Middle East policies,” Romney campaign spokesperson Amanda Henneberg said in a statement. “President Obama’s advisers are entitled to their own opinions, but certainly not their own facts.”
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.