JERUSALEM July 29, 2012 -- A top adviser to Mitt Romney said today that the Republican presidential candidate would "respect" an Israeli decision to use force against Iran, but Romney himself took a softer tone when later discussing Iran.
Romney and his wife Ann arrived in Israel this weekend and he was hoping for a less controversial trip than his visit to London where his comments about the Olympics angered Brits, including London's mayor.
The Romneys went to the Western Wall today where each placed notes in the wall. He will also hold a fundraiser tomorrow in Israel, but the focus of his comments today were on foreign policy and Iran.
Romney's foreign policy adviser Dan Senor said that Romney believes preventing Iran from nuclear capabilities is the "highest national security priority."
"If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that capability the governor would respect that decision," said Senor.
Senor later clarified his comment, saying that Romney hopes that diplomacy and sanctions will succeed in halting Iran's nuclear ambitions, but added, "Gov. Romney recognizes Israel's right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with it."
Romney took a similar, toned down tact when discussing Iran today.
In a speech Romney gave this evening, he said, "My message to the people of Israel and the leaders of Iran is one and the same: I will not look away; and neither will my country."
"Make no mistake: The ayatollahs in Tehran are testing our moral defenses. They want to know who will object, and who will look the other way," Romney said.
In an interview with ABC News, Romney said, "I recognize the right of Israel to defend itself. At the same time as two nations we are both committed to employing every means we have to keep Iran from pursuing nuclear following."
"Sanctions are beginning to have a greater impact on Iran," he said. "We want to execute all of these elements, soft power if you will. But we of course maintain all options if our political and economic options were to fail we of course retain military options as well."
Earlier today, Romney met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli leader told the candidate that he "couldn't agree more" with his remarks regarding Iran.
"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," said Netanyahu. "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."
President Obama has not ruled out a military strike, saying he has left "all options on the table," but has worked to enforce stronger sanctions in the region.
Senor added that Romney is "highly skeptical" of Iran's requests for nuclear capability for civilian use only, but said that the "military option should be avoided if possible."
Senor said that Romney believes in a zero enrichment policy in Iran and that Tehran must believe "the alternative to zero enrichment is severe, and that's why the threat of military force has to be critical."
"And he just thinks it's unrealistic to just sort of hope away the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapons capability in terms of the impact it would have on Israel, the impact it would have on the region, the impact it would have on the United States," said Senor.
The Romney campaign reversed an earlier decision to ban press from a fund raiser in Jerusalem after an uproar over closing it.
The Republican candidate's trip to Israel is the second stop on his foreign foray and follows a bumpy trip through London where he riled the Brits over his comments about their readiness to put on the big show.
He will wind up his trip in Poland.