Romney says: ‘I would back Israeli strike against Iran’
US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney would support an Israeli decision to use military force to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, one of his seniors aide has said.
Mr Romney yesterday met Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on the second leg of a trip to display his foreign policy credentials in his race to unseat President Barack Obama in this year’s election.
Shortly before talks with Mr Netanyahu, Mr Romney’s senior national security aide, Dan Senor, told reporters travelling with the candidate: “If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that [nuclear] capability, the governor would respect that decision.”
The comment seemed to put Mr Romney at odds with Mr Obama’s efforts to press Israel to avoid any pre-emptive strike before tough Western sanctions against Iran run their course.
Mr Senor later expanded on his remarks, saying Mr Romney felt “we should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course”.
It was Mr Romney’s “fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so” and “no option should be excluded”, Mr Senor said, adding that “Romney recognises Israel’s right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with it”.
Standing beside Mr Netanyahu at the Israeli leader’s office, Mr Romney said only that Iran’s effort to become a nuclear power “is one which I take with great seriousness”.
The failure of talks between Iran and six world powers to secure a breakthrough in curbing what the West fears is a drive to develop nuclear weapons has raised international concern that Israel may opt for a go-it-alone military strike.
Iran insists its project is for peaceful purposes.
“We have to be honest that sanctions have not set back the Tehran program one iota and that a strong military threat coupled with sanctions are needed to have a chance to change the situation,” Mr Netanyahu said.
Israel, widely assumed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear-armed state, has warned it is only a matter of time before Iran’s nuclear programme achieves a “zone of immunity” in which bombs will not be able to effectively strike uranium enrichment facilities buried deep underground.
Though Washington has been pressing Israel not to launch a solo strike on Iran, Mr Obama has not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to curb Iran’s nuclear drive.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz said yesterday that Mr Obama’s national security adviser had briefed Mr Netanyahu on a US contingency plan to attack Iran. A senior Israeli official denied the report.
In an effort that appeared timed to upstage Mr Romney’s visit to Israel, Mr Obama signed a measure on Friday to strengthen US-Israeli military ties and defence secretary Leon Panetta is expected to visit Israel later this week.
Mr Romney’s visit to Israel gives him the opportunity to appeal to both Jewish voters and pro-Israel evangelical voters and contrast himself with Mr Obama, who has a strained relationship with the Israeli prime minister.
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