Jerusalem – In a speech here Sunday evening, Mitt Romney plans to assert that he respects Israel’s right to take pre-emptive action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear capabilities that could be used for a weapon.
Dan Senor, a senior Romney foreign policy adviser who helped orchestrate Mr. Romney’s stop here, told reporters in a briefing before the speech that Mr. Romney would express — several times — that it was “unacceptable” for Iran to develop the capability to build nuclear weapons, including his view that Israel reserves the right to take action against Iran.
“If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that capability, the governor would respect that decision,” Mr. Senor said.
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Previewing Mr. Romney’s remarks, Mr. Senor explained: “It is not enough just to stop Iran from developing a nuclear program. The capability, even if that capability is short of weaponization, is a pathway to weaponization, and the capability gives Iran the power it needs to wreak havoc in the region and around the world.”
A short time later, the Romney campaign issued a statement that seemed to slightly soften its statement.
“Gov. Romney believes we should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course, and it is his fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so,” Mr. Senor said in an e-mail statement released by the campaign. “In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded. Gov. Romney recognizes Israel’s right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with it.”
While Mr. Romney’s rival, President Obama, has not ruled out military action, he has urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to first give diplomacy and economic sanctions a chance to work.
Mr. Romney and Mr. Netanyahu met Sunday morning for a working meeting, and the topic turned quickly to Iran.
“I have to say that I heard some of your remarks a few days ago — you said that the greatest danger facing the world is of the Ayatollah regime possessing nuclear weapons capability,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “Mitt, I couldn’t agree with you more, and I think it’s important to do everything in our power to prevent the Ayatollahs from possessing the capability. We have to be honest and say that all the sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota.”
He added: “And that’s why I believe that we need a strong and credible military threat, coupled with the sanctions, to have a chance to change that situation.”
Mr. Romney, after acknowledging “a friendship which spans the years” — dating back to their days as young consultants in Boston — also discussed Iran.
“Your perspectives with regards to Iran and its effort to become a nuclear-capable nation are ones which I take with great seriousness and look forward to chatting with you about further actions that we can take to dissuade Iran from their nuclear folly,” Mr. Romney said.
At the annual Herzliya Conference in 2007, Mr. Romney took a strong stance against Iran, arguing that the country’s nuclear capabilities must, can, and will be stopped. But the message coming out of Mr. Romney’s campaign in advance of his speech represents a ratcheting up of his previous position.
In excerpts released by his campaign, Mr. Romney plans to stress the importance of protecting Israel’s right to defend itself against Iran.
“But today, the regime in Iran is five years closer to developing nuclear weapons capability,” Mr. Romney’s prepared remarks say. “Preventing that outcome must be our highest national security priority.”
For Mr. Romney, the trip to Israel is a crucial opportunity to show his statesmanship, especially after a less-than-perfect London trip, and to highlight his relationship with Mr. Netanyahu.’ But the perils include appearing critical of a sitting president from foreign soil. For Mr. Netanyahu, a right-leaning leader whose relationship with President Obama has been rocky at best, the visit is a chance to ratchet up the pressure on the administration over the Iranian nuclear threat, but he must be careful not to be seen as partisan or meddling.
Mr. Romney also met Sunday with Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, and the leader of the opposition in Parliament, Shaul Mofaz. But his campaign canceled a scheduled session with leaders of the Labor Party about an hour before it was supposed to happen.
Isaac Herzog, head of Parliament’s Labor faction, said that Mr. Senor had first reached out to him about a month ago, and that the campaign followed with an official request in mid-July. Labor’s chief, Shellye Yacimovich, was replaced as head of the opposition two weeks ago when Mr. Mofaz and Kadima left Mr. Netanyahu’s unity government, but the Romney campaign kept the Labor meeting anyhow, Mr. Herzog said, calling on Friday and again Sunday to confirm details.
Then, the campaign switched gears.
“He said they have a timetable problem,” Mr. Herzog said of Mr. Senor. “But one can find the time if one wants to find the time.”