JERUSALEM -- Seeking to further extinguish questions about his support for an Israeli military strike on Iran, Mitt Romney said Sunday that "no option should be excluded," but repeated the caveat that he hopes diplomatic and economic measures will work first.
"We should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course," Romney said in a speech on the second day of his trip to Israel. "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."
Romney's speech echoed his earlier remarks to CBS News that came after Dan Senor, his special advisor on foreign policy, caused a stir with his remarks on Iran.
Senor told reporters on the trip that, "If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing the capability, the governor would respect that decision." Senor later issued a statement to clarify that remark, saying Romney wanted to give diplomatic and economic measures time to work first. But Democrats seized on the divide as what they said was evidence that the former Massachusetts governor has an insufficient grasp of foreign policy.
Romney's visit is intended to highlight his differences with President Obama on embracing Israel. But the Obama campaign used an appearance by another Romney advisor, Kevin Madden, on ABC's This Week to argue that its rival cannot articulate any difference between Obama's and Romney's approaches to Israel.
"After saying recently that he would 'do the opposite' of President Obama on Israel, Romney and his team have failed to outline what that actually means – if it means slashing record-high security funding, or de-funding [the air defense system] Iron Dome, or abandoning Israel in the international community," the Obama campaign said in an email to reporters.
In an interview with ABC News, Romney said: "Being on foreign soil, I simply don’t want to attack the president or his policies and nor make new foreign policy." But he said the recent Obama administration-imposed economic sanctions on Iran are "in my estimation a positive thing; I would have liked to see them earlier." He acknowledged that the sanctions " are beginning to have a greater impact on Iran."
During his Jerusalem speech, Romney saluted Israel for its "cutting-edge technologies and thriving economy ... You have embraced economic liberty. You export technology, not tyranny or terrorism."
Romney did not mention Obama by name in his speech and he did not specifically criticize the president -- something he has said he would not do while on foreign soil. But he did tell the group that he would not criticize Israel, as some pro-Israel backers believe the Obama administration has done by asking the country to stop building settlements in areas where Palestinians live.
“Standing by Israel does not mean with military and intelligence cooperation alone,” Romney said. “We cannot stand silent as those who seek to undermine Israel voice their criticisms. And we certainly should not join in that criticism.”
Romney also called it a “deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.” Just days earlier, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney refused to name the capital of Israel in response to a reporter's question. While Israel considers Jerusalem to be its capital, Palestinians also lay claim to the city and want to claim it for their own. As such, the U.S. keeps its embassy in Tel Aviv, and the Obama administration has refrained from naming Jerusalem the country's capital.
Romney spoke to a receptive crowd of about 200 people with Jerusalem’s old city prominently displayed behind him. While the audience was supportive of Romney, a recent Gallup survey showed that Obama still has a solid lead over the presumed Republican nominee among Jewish-American voters. Obama drew the backing of 68 percent of those surveyed, compared to 25 percent for Romney.
Roughly one-third of those in attendance were donors -- some traveling from the United States -- who will attend a fundraiser at the presumed nominee’s hotel on Monday morning. They include New York Jets owner Woody Johnson and Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul who has given more than $20 million to Republican super PACs this election cycle, including the Restore Our Future PAC supporting Romney.
Although he said, he “loved” Romney’s speech, Adelson declined to answer other questions from reporters, including the amount of money he is willing to donate to Romney. “I’m usually misquoted too often,” he said.