JERUSALEM — Mitt Romney landed in Israel late today. This is Romney’s second stop on his first foreign trip as presumptive Republican nominee.
Romney will meet Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders before delivering a speech on the United States’ relationship with Israel.
Shortly before landing in Tel Aviv, foreign policy advisor Lanhee Chen briefed reporters on what to expect while in Israel.
Chen said Romney will not be criticizing the Obama Administration’s relationship with Israel. Chen said while on foreign soil, Romney does not want to appear critical of current U.S. foreign policy. Chen said in 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama had more freedom to discuss his own vision on foreign policy while traveling abroad because he was not running against an incumbent President.
But Chen’s comments come after Romney told an Israeli newspaper, the Haaretz Daily, that if he were president, “There will be no public denouncing of Israel by the U.S. in the UN… I believe that is the real way to achieve peace … by working with Israel, not creating distance between Israel and America.” The interview was conducted in London.
Chen repeatedly said this trip is an opportunity for Romney to hear from Israeli leaders about their concerns involving Iran and Syria.
Chen said Iran is “the biggest foreign policy challenge the world faces, not just Israel or America … the prospect of a nuclear Iran is an incredibly substantial problem.”
When I asked Chen how the Romney team reconciles what Romney said previously about Russia, calling that country the United States’ biggest foe, Chen answered, “Romney said Russia was our number one geopolitical foe. He was expressing concern that Russia interferes with a number of our policy objectives.”
Chen added: “Whether it’s Syria or Iran, Russia is certainly implicated as well. What you have to understand is there is a distinction between a country that consistently stands and opposes our interests versus a challenge that is posed by Iran going nuclear potentially.”
I asked whether the distinction was biggest “foe” versus biggest “threat?”
“Well, foreign policy is nuanced,” Chen said.
Meantime, Chen called the meetings in London “warm and productive,” saying chief among the concerns raised by leaders in the U.K. was the faltering Eurozone.
“The situation could get very ugly, very soon,” Chen said. “In the U.S., you hear all this analysis that this is a 4-month, or 6-month proposition, when in fact, it’s very helpful for us to hear a different perspective.”
“The message was this may happen sooner than you in the United States think this could happen,” Chen said. “They’re far more concerned about what’s happening in Europe than the U.S.”
Chen was also asked about the barrage of negative headlines in London after Romney told NBC he was not sure how well the London games would turn out. Romney saying he found some things “disconcerting” on the eve the games.
When asked about reports one adviser had blamed the comment on jet lag, Chen responded, “I don’t have anything to say on that. My general perspective is that different folks have a lot of different perspectives on things that happen.”
I asked whether Romney would say the same if asked all over again?
“Well, I think you heard him give his answer on the Olympics. I think he was expressing his thoughts on things he’d seen and heard in the news,” Chen said.
“Having spent time with UK officials, you know I think he feels it’s going to be a fantastic Olympic games,” Chen added.
Chen did mention another objective met while in London.
“Obviously the governor got the chance to go to the opening ceremonies. I understand he showed up on NBC… I understand people back home saw him, that’s a nice thing,” Chen said.
The Romney campaign timed the first leg of the foreign trip to coincide with the opening of the London Olympics, hoping for a photo-op reminding American voters of Romney’s history with the Salt Lake City games.