Mitt Romney has arrived in Israel, where he immediately found himself in the middle of another overseas mini-controversy. This one wasn’t totally his fault, though — it was his foreign policy adviser Dan Senor who, in previewing the candidate’s speech in Jerusalem tonight, suggested Romney would support a preemptive strike by Israel on Iran’s nuclear facilities. “If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that capability,” he said, “the governor would respect that decision.”
The governor believes that at this point the only thing that could focus and force the minds of the Iranian leadership on ending their nuclear weapons, their path to a nuclear weapons capability, is the belief that the alternative is far worse.
A short time later, the campaign tried to soften the statement, saying that it’s Romney’s “fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures” will be enough to dissuade Iran, but it wasn’t fast enough to keep the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, the Washington Post, USA Today, Reuters, the Guardian, the Financial Times, and others from running headlines saying that Romney supports a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran.
Update: Romney appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation, where he said that Israel and America “come together in peace that want to see Iran be dissuaded from its nuclear folly.” In what appeared to be a reference to this morning’s confusion, he added, “Let me use my own words in that regard.” While citing the fact that he was on foreign soil as a reason for not getting into policy specifics (current or proposed), he said he felt diplomatic tools should be used “with the greatest speed that we can muster.” But, he said, “We do have other options, and we don’t take those other options off the table.”
He also delivered the speech previewed by Senor. It did seem different from the version described this morning, with no direct mention of military action against Iran, though he did again mention Israel’s “right to defend itself.” He also said preventing Iran from gaining nuclear capabilities “must be our highest national security priority”:
“We have a solemn duty and a moral imperative to deny Iran’s leaders the means to follow through on their malevolent intentions,” Mr. Romney said. “We should stand with all who would join our effort to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran — and that includes Iranian dissidents. Don’t erase from your memory the scenes from three years ago, when that regime brought to death its own people as they rose up.”
Romney also praised former Boston Consulting colleague and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (or Bibi, as he called him at the start of his remarks), with whom he met earlier today. The two seemed eager to play up their relationship – Netanyahu referred to Romney as “a personal friend” and even complimented the candidate’s apparent agelessness (“We’ve known each other for many decades, since you were a young man, but for some reason, you still look young.”)
Sheldon Adelson also attended the speech, though the billionaire donor played it coy. When asked why he’d made the trip to Israel, he responded, “I came to get a shwarma sandwich, what do you mean?” Hopefully they’ll serve those at tomorrow’s much-discussed King David Hotel breakfast.