Romney's Israel visit offers chance to turn page
(CBS News) Take 2 can't come soon enough for Mitt Romney.
When his plane touches down in Israel on Saturday afternoon, the GOP presidential nominee will have a second chance to make a good impression on a close U.S. ally during his weeklong international tour. The Middle East stop comes after his planned low-key trip to the U.K. turned into a public relations headache when some of his comments were roundly derided in the British press.
Londoners who have been inconvenienced by preparations for the Summer Olympics had for months joined their famously prickly media in complaining about glitches in the process. But when Romney echoed some of those concerns in an interview with NBC News' Brian Williams, a visit that was intended to remind voters of his stewardship of the 2002 Winter Games was mired in fallout from his comments.
But the visit to Israel offers Romney a plum opportunity to change the subject.
The U.S. relationship with that key nation, which Romney characterizes as having deteriorated in recent years, is a focal point of his criticism of President Obama's foreign policy.
The Romney campaign has noted repeatedly that Obama has not visited Israel as president, and a series of photo-ops and meetings with top leaders there on Sunday will offer the Republican candidate a chance to demonstrate a personal connection to the country.
On Sunday morning, he will first meet privately in Jerusalem with the U.S. ambassador before sitting down with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom he first became acquainted during the 1970s when each man was a young corporate adviser for the Boston Consulting Group.
They will be joined at the meeting by Israeli cabinet members, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and the Iranian nuclear program will undoubtedly be a chief topic of conversation. Romney has repeatedly accused Obama of not doing enough to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions.
In an interview published Friday with the country's largest-circulation newspaper, Israel Hayom, Romney was particularly scathing in his criticism of Obama's handling of the relationship with Israel.
"I would treat Israel like the friend and ally it is," he said. "I cannot imagine going to the United Nations, as Obama did, and criticizing Israel in front of the world. I believe that he should have mentioned instead the thousands of rockets that are being fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel."
Romney is also slated to meet with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. But notably absent from his schedule is a meeting with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. A Romney campaign official said that the candidate had time to meet with only one representative of the Palestinian Authority during this trip.
Romney is not expected to venture outside of Jerusalem during his approximately 36-hour stay, but his visit to the holy city will be jam-packed. His series of brief meetings and grip-and-grin sessions for the cameras continues later on Sunday with Israeli President Shimon Peres, followed by similar events with leaders of the Kadima and Labor parties.
Romney and Peres are expected to release a joint statement.
The centerpiece of the former Massachusetts governor's visit will come on Sunday night when he will deliver a speech in front of the dramatic walls enveloping the Old City of Jerusalem.
Romney foreign policy adviser Dan Senor said that the candidate's remarks will be directed toward "the themes that [Romney] feels are definitional of the U.S.-Israel relationship," rather than specific policy prescriptions.
"It is much more a speech that is going to be connected to the shared values, the shared interests, the shared history and the shared threats facing American and Israel and what that means for America and America's role in the world," Senor said, noting in particular "the prospect of Iran developing a nuclear weapons capability and the impact that would have on Israeli survival."
Sunday marks the solemn Jewish holiday of Tish a B'av, in which observers fast and mourn. Romney is expected to break the fast after sundown at a meal with Netanyahu.
ABC News and The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Republican super-donor Sheldon Adelson plans to fly to Jerusalem to attend a Monday morning Romney fundraising event at the King David Hotel.
After months of bankrolling a pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC during the Republican primary fight, Adelson, a hardliner on Iran who opposes Israeli territorial concessions to the Palestinians, has become a major Romney donor and has suggested that he could spend upwards of $100 million to help elect him.
Later on Monday, Romney will head to Poland for the third and final stop on his foreign trip.
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