JERUSALEM — U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney spoke aggressively Sunday about protecting Israel from Iranian nuclear threats and suggested that he was open to breaking with U.S. policy dating to 1967 by moving the United States Embassy to Jerusalem if the Israelis asked. Israel is the second of three stops on an international trip for Romney intended to burnish his foreign policy credentials before he claims the Republican presidential nomination at his party’s national convention in Tampa, Florida, in late August.
While Romney has been highly critical of President Barack Obama’s policy toward Iran and the presumed threat to Israel, he has offered no specifics about how his policy would be substantially different.
But on the issue of the location of the U.S. Embassy in Israel, which is in Tel Aviv, Romney told CNN that he thought the U.S. Embassy should be moved to Jerusalem if the Israelis make that request. The Israelis have repeatedly sought such a move.
“My understanding is the policy of our nation has been a desire to move our embassy ultimately to the capital (Jerusalem),” he said, adding, “I would only want to do so and to select the timing in accordance with the government of Israel.”
The issue has been a major diplomatic headache for the Americans, who have refused to make the shift because it would imply the sanctioning of Israel’s incorporation of Arab East Jerusalem after its capture in the 1967 Mideast war.
The United States, despite its close ties with Israel, has refused to locate its embassy in Jerusalem out of its effort to be a trusted voice by both sides in efforts to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Despite losing control of their portion of the ancient city, Palestinians have refused to drop their demand that it become the capital of any state accorded them in return for peace with Israel.
Jerusalem is home to deeply important religious sites central not only to Judaism but also Islam and Christianity.
Romney flatly called Jerusalem the Israeli capital in the very first words of his speech Sunday, delivered before the made-for-television backdrop of the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.
Romney’s embrace of Israel was on display throughout the day when he met with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders. Wearing a yarmulke, he also visited the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, where he was mobbed by worshippers. In addition, Romney met with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
The former Massachusetts governor’s speech was clearly designed not only for Israelis but more importantly it was aimed at appealing to evangelical voters at home and to cut into Obama’s support among American Jews. A Gallup survey of Jewish voters released Friday showed Obama with a 68-25 edge over Romney. More Words for Iran