LEXINGTON, Va. — Mitt Romney vowed Monday to "recommit" the United States to a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians, to put "clear conditions" on U.S. assistance to Egypt and to ensure Syrian opponents get access to needed weapons as he sought to define key foreign policy differences with President Obama.
While putting some meat on the foreign policy bones his advisers have been outlining for months, the Republican presidential nominee also accused Mr. Obama of "passivity" on the international stage, which he said is damaging the interests of the U.S. and its allies.
"Hope is not a strategy," Mr. Romney said at the Virginia Military Institute, asserting that the Obama administration has left people around the world wondering, "Where does America stand?"
Mr. Romney said that if he is elected, the world will see clear and predictable behavior from the White House.
But critics from the Obama camp and beyond said the address served only to bolster perceptions that the former Massachusetts governor is long on platitudes but short on substance when it comes to clear differences with the president on foreign policy.
"I would like to ask Gov. Romney or his advisers exactly what he would do differently and how he would operate and how he truly understands what is going on in the Arab world and how deal with it," former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said Monday in a conference call arranged by the Obama campaign.
Mr. Romney laid out differences in what he called "bedrock principles" toward the Middle East, and said the U.S. must adhere to them in order to give American allies the certainty a stable world needs.
"No friend of America will question our commitment to support them, no enemy that attacks America will question our resolve to defeat them, and no one anywhere, friend or foe, will doubt America's capability to back up our words," Mr. Romney said.
"I will champion free trade and restore it as a critical element of our strategy, both in the Middle East and across the world," he said. "The president has not signed one new free-trade agreement in the past four years. I will reverse that failure."
On Iran, which is widely thought to be trying to acquire nuclear weapons, Mr. Romney remained vague on whether he would support a pre-emptive military strike, saying instead that "we must make clear to Iran through actions — not just words — that their nuclear pursuit will not be tolerated."
He said U.S. aid to Egypt must come with new conditions that would push the new regime there to respect democracy and to live up to its peace treaty commitments with Israel.
Just weeks after a video surfaced showing him sharing his doubts with donors about the viability of a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians, Mr. Romney punctuated Monday's speech with a pledge to "recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel."
"On this vital issue, the president has failed, and what should be a negotiation process has devolved into a series of heated disputes at the United Nations. In this old conflict, as in every challenge we face in the Middle East, only a new president will bring the chance to begin anew," he said.
When it comes to Syria, where opposition forces are in a bloody stalemate with the regime of Bashar Assad, Mr. Romney said the U.S. must do more to get arms into the hands of the rebels — at least those whom the U.S. trusts.
"I will work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad's tanks, helicopters and fighter jets," Mr. Romney said. "Iran is sending arms to Assad because they know his downfall would be a strategic defeat for them. We should be working no less vigorously with our international partners to support the many Syrians who would deliver that defeat to Iran — rather than sitting on the sidelines."
Critics said Mr. Romney tried to carve out differences but didn't articulate a dramatically different vision from the president's.
"When push comes to shove, it seems to me in this speech that Romney's a realist and so is Obama," said Gordon Adams, an international relations professor at American University who served on President Clinton's national security staff during the mid-1990s.
"When it comes to defining exactly what Romney would do, whether it's toward Iran or Egypt, or Libya or Syria or Israel, it's pretty much the same thing when the rubber hits the road that Obama's already doing," Mr. Adams said. "And where it's not, it's manifestly unrealistic."
He added that when it comes to overall U.S. foreign policy, "The elusiveness of strategy in the 21st century is intense, and it's particularly intense in the region that Romney chose to focus on.
"You need to be aware of the fact that not everybody looks to the United States to shape their course of events, and this is particularly true in the Mideast."
On the issue of standing up countering Iranian nuclear ambitions, Mrs. Albright said, "Short of immediate military action, [Mr. Romney] can't specify what he'd do differently on Iran than the president."
U.S. assistance to Egypt, the former secretary of state added, is "already conditioned on many of the things that he listed, like Egypt meeting its obligations to its — the peace treaty with Israel and to proceed with its transition to democracy."
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