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Romney looks for political lift in Israel after London miscues


LONDON -- Mitt Romney will try to rebuild momentum for his closely watched foreign trip Saturday when he arrives in Israel, where the presumptive GOP nominee will look to escape two days' worth of negative headlines plaguing his campaign in London.

Romney will arrive in Jerusalem with hopes of finding surer political footing than in London. He spent most of his two days in the United Kingdom's capital trying to clean up a controversy spurred by his comments to NBC doubting London's preparation for the Summer Olympic Games. He and his wife Ann attended the opening ceremonies last night.

This will be Romney's fourth visit to Israel, and it's expected to be another whirlwind day of meetings with top officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (a friend of Romney's from their days at Boston Consulting Group decades ago), and Palestinian leader Salam Fayyad, whom Romney also knows from previous visits.

Romney will also give a public speech while in Jerusalem — his first such engagement thus far during his foreign trip — that is expected to be heavy on praise for America's most important ally in the Middle East, with whom Romney has repeatedly called for the U.S. to "lock arms" on the international stage.

The presumptive GOP nominee has pledged to keep with diplomatic tradition by not criticizing President Obama or his foreign policy while on foreign soil, but in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Hayom (owned by conservative mega-donor Sheldon Adelson), Romney ripped the president for various elements of his policy toward Israel, including the president's call for the Israel to consider returning to its pre-1967 borders, including land swaps with the Palestinians to compensate for disputed territory.

"The president has also spoken of returning to 1967 borders — they are indefensible. And acting as a negotiator and usurping the primary role played by Israel in negotiating for its own future is not the right course for America to take," Romney told the paper.

Romney also indicated in his interview with Hayom that his primary audience on this trip to Israel was, after all, American voters. In 2008, President Obama carried the Jewish vote with 78 percent of the vote, a lead into which Romney's campaign would love to make inroads.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk explains:

"The context is a political campaign in which there is a sense that because of tensions between Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu the American Jewish vote is up for grabs," said Indyk, who served under Bill Clinton. "In that context its natural that the Republican campaign would seek to emphasize the friendships Romney has in Israel and the problems Obama has had with Netanyahu."

Indyk, who has authored a book on Obama's foreign policy, described Obama's security record on Israel - enhanced Friday by the signing of a new agreement - "impeccable," but said Romney had room to appeal to Israelis and Americans by showing more warmth to Israel than the sometimes cold Obama.

Sure to be on the agenda in Romney's various meetings: the specter of a nuclear Iran, the most pressing security issue to Israel.

"Again, he's got to walk between the raindrops, because while he'll try to draw distinction and claim Obama is weak and he is strong on this issue, he's got to be careful not to give the American voting public the impression if he's president he'll go to war with Iran," Indyk said.  

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