Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney would back an Israeli strike against Iran aimed at preventing Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, a top adviser to Romney's campaign said on Sunday, as the candidate began a round of calls on senior Israeli officials.
Romney's foreign policy adviser, Dan Senor, told reporters that "if Israel has to take action on its own" to prevent Iran from becoming able to make the materials that could be used for a bomb, Romney "would respect that decision."
Romney landed in Israel on Saturday night and met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his office on Sunday morning. Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are to host Romney and his wife, Ann, for dinner on Sunday evening at the prime minister's official residence.
Speaking at the start of their meeting, Netanyahu told Romney, "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. 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. 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."
Romney responded: "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 ... As we face the challenges of an Iran seeking nuclear capability, we must draw upon our interests and our values to take them on a different course and to assure that people recognize throughout the world that the United States and Israel are bound in our commitments to one another."
In an interview with Israel Hayom published on Friday, Romeny said that if elected president, he would take "whatever action is necessary to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear. A nuclear Iran is a threat to America and to the world."
The visit is meant to emphasize Romney's connection to Israel and his long-time friendship with Netanyahu. The men first met when both worked for the same consulting group during the 1970s. "We can speak almost in shorthand," Romney said in an interview. The two have reportedly advised each other during different points in their political careers.
Despite their warm relationship, Israeli officials are careful not to interfere with American politics, repeatedly stating that just as Barack Obama was received in Israel before he was elected president, so will Romney be received. The Republican presumptive nominee was also scheduled to meet other Israeli leaders, including President Shimon Peres and leader of the opposition, Kadima party leader Shaul Mofaz.
Romney will also hold a fundraiser at Jerusalem's prestigious King David Hotel on Monday. The Republican has come under fire for deciding to close the event off to media at the last moment. The numerous reporters accompanying Romney on his foreign trip claim that this is a violation of an April agreement between his campaign team and media outlets.
Romney's Israeli hosts are expected to speak to him about different joint efforts of Israel and the U.S. One topic likely to be raised is the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard. According to the British think tank the Smith Institute, 83 percent of Israelis think the president and prime minister should raise the issue with Romney.
"The fact that such American officials as [former Secretaries of State] Henry Kissinger [and] George Schultz, and former Director of the CIA [James] Woolsey all support Pollard's release has had a large impact on the Israeli demand to release him," said Nissan Ganor, head of the Committee to Bring Pollard Home.
A tempest in a teacup
Romney arrived in Israel after a short visit to London, and will leave on Monday for Poland. His visit to the British capital began in controversy, after Romney expressed concerns about the way London was preparing for the Olympic Games.
"It's hard to know just how well it will turn out," he said. "There are a few things that were disconcerting: the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging."
Romney was in charge of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, and was credited with turning the games around and boosting sales after allegations of bribery and athletes' drug use broke out.
British Prime Minister David Cameron was quick to respond to Romney's comments: "We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world," Cameron said. "Of course it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere."
Romney eventually met with the British prime minister at his official residence, where he expressed a more conciliatory view, saying: "I am very delighted with the prospects of a highly successful Olympic Games. What I have seen shows imagination and forethought and a lot of organization."