Taking his overseas tour to Israel, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney used a Sunday speech in Jerusalem to take a hardline against Iran (LAT) and its nuclear ambitions and emphasize his commitment to Israel, but analysts debate how clear Romney was on setting himself apart from President Barack Obama.
In his speech, Romney said his administration’s “highest national security priority” (NYT) would be preventing Iran from building a nuclear weapons and vowed to strengthen ties with Israel if elected.
“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,” Romney said. “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.” In a Sunday interview, Romney also said he would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem (CNN), though the rest of the world stations their diplomats in Tel Aviv.
Earlier in the day, Romney adviser on Middle East affairs Dan Senor (TheHill) told reporters, “if Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop, the governor would respect that decision,” which the Romney campaign later spent time clarifying (NationalJournal) emphasizing the need for diplomacy.
Pema Levy at Talking Points Memo, said Romney was too short on specifics regarding his Israel policy and others, while The Christian Science Monitor’s Joshua Mitnick, said Romney did not say enough about exactly what he would do differently from the Obama administration on Iran. National Journal’s Alexandra Jaffe writes that “Romney may have missed an opportunity in Israel to stake out a definitive position and state it clearly.”
But CFR’s Elliott Abrams writes that in spite of Romney’s pledge earlier in the trip to refrain from criticizing President Obama or U.S. foreign policy, a few significant phrases in his speech indirectly challenged the president and separated Romney from current Israel policy. Romney stating unequivocally that he considers Jerusalem the capital of Israel, a contentious issue in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; implying diplomatic distance between the United States and Israel; and adding a line declaring his love for Israel, his country, and the U.S.-Israel relationship, set him apart from President Obama, Abrams says.
For more on the candidates’ stances, check out CFR’s Issue Trackers on The Candidates and U.S.-Iran Policy and The Candidates on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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In testimony before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Brookings’ Daniel L. Byman said “allowing Iran to get the bomb is dangerous in and of itself and may make Tehran more aggressive in supporting terrorists, but a military strike to destroy the program is likely to lead Iran to use terrorism to take revenge.”
According to an in-depth report by the Associated Press, the United States sees Israel simultaneously as a close ally and a top counterintelligence threat.
— Gayle S. Putrich, Contributing Editor