JERUSALEM — In a 6,000-mile reach for evangelical and Jewish voters in the presidential election, presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney said Sunday that the U.S. should “employ any and all measures” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, arguing that it is the nation’s most pressing national security issue.
With the Tower of David in the Old City of Jerusalem as a backdrop, Mr. Romney said that “we recognize Israel’s right to defend itself,” but stopped short of reiterating the words of a foreign policy aide who told reporters that the Republican would “respect” a unilateral Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities.
He said stopping such a development is “a solemn duty and a moral imperative.”
“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. 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,” he said.
The speech at the Jerusalem Foundation was seen as the centerpiece of a weeklong overseas tour that continues Monday with a fundraiser at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, after which he will travel to Poland to meet with Prime Minister Donald Tusk and former President Lech Walesa and visit a World War II memorial.
The trip has given Mr. Romney a chance to not only raise additional money from expatriate Americans, but also bolster his foreign policy credentials and score points with evangelicals and conservative Jews in key swing states such as Florida, which could make or break his presidential dream.
The three-nation swing, however, got off on the wrong foot last week in Britain after the Republican touted his meeting with the head of Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency — a no-no in British circles — and became a punching bag for British leaders and the press after he questioned whether London officials were ready to host the Summer Olympics.
Mr. Romney, though, received a warm welcome from the crowd gathered to hear him speak at the Jerusalem Foundation on Sunday, including many big campaign donors who flew in from the United States for the speech.
He also was showered with cheers when he declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel — comments echoing the claims of the Israeli government, but putting him at odds with Palestinians who also claim right to the city as the capital of a future independent state.
Mr. Romney weighed further into the thorny thicket during an interview with CNN by saying that the United States, in consultation with the Israeli government, should move its embassy, which is now in Tel Aviv, to Jerusalem.
“I think it’s long been the policy to ultimately have our embassy in the nation’s capital of Jerusalem,” he said. “The decision to actually make the move is one, if I were president, I would want to take in consultation with the leadership of the [Israeli] government.”
Since the passage of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, which says the U.S. should move its embassy to Jerusalem, every U.S. president has suspended on national security grounds, as the law allows, a decision to make good on the “required” move.
But Mr. Romney seemed to say he would not do that.
When CNN host Wolf Blitzer pointed out to him that “every Israeli government has always asked every U.S. government to recognize Jerusalem as the capital and to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Mr. Romney responded: “Well, that would make the decision easy, but I’d still want to have that communication with the government leaders.”