(CBS/AP) LONDON - With the Olympics Games as a backdrop, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney met Thursday with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, beginning a day of meetings with Britain's most powerful people. The likely GOP nominee sought to send a message that he recognizes the close bonds between the U.S. and its top ally and to project an image of leadership.
"We have a very special relationship between the United States and Great Britain," Romney told NBC News in an interview in London on the first day of a weeklong overseas trip that will also take him to Israel and Poland. "It goes back to our very beginnings cultural and historical."
Romney's first official appearance during a campaign swing intended to highlight longtime U.S. alliances was with Blair. He was slated to meet later in the day with current Prime Minister David Cameron.CBS News correspondent Jan Crawford reports that, in a news conference earlier Thursday, Cameron called for stronger trade links between the U.S. and Europe, so that will likely be a theme discussed by the two men Thursday afternoon.
Blair hosted Romney at his private office few blocks off Hyde Park. The former Labour Party prime minister now serves as a special envoy to the Middle East for the British government. The two discussed the Olympics and exchanged pleasantries at the beginning of a planned half-hour meeting.
Romney then met with Ed Miliband, the current leader of the Labour Party. Before that session, Miliband invited two reporters from what he called "my side" to ask questions, although Romney declined to take questions from American journalists. Romney again cited the "special relationship" between the two countries and praised Britain for its military commitment in Afghanistan.
Asked for his thoughts on the current financial crisis in Britain - currently suffering its worst double-dip recession in 50 years - and the role of the country's fiscal leaders, Romney would not be drawn.
"While I'm on foreign soil, I'm very careful not to be critical of my own government's policies," said the presumptive Republican nominee. "I would be even more remiss if I were to be critical of any other government's policies. I will instead look forward to an exchange of ideas."CBS News political analyst John Dickerson told "CBS This Morning" co-host Charlie Rose that Romney's discretion is part of his campaign's well-calculated effort to come across as presidential.
Romney also was slated to meet with Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, Britain's top financial official.
Accompanying Romney to some of his meetings are former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent, an adviser, and Kerry Healey, who served as lieutenant governor when Romney was governor of Massachusetts.
Romney, whose decades in private business gave him ample exposure to international affairs, is a former one-term governor untested on the world's political stage. He hopes to convince voters back home that he is no novice on foreign affairs and that they should elect him as president in a complex, dangerous world.
Romney also will spend part of his time in London raising money.
He's attending a fundraising dinner in London's swish Mayfair neighborhood on Thursday evening. According to The Guardian, tickets were selling for between $50,000 and $75,000 each. The dinner was to be hosted by Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond, but he pulled out of the event after resigning his post with the bank over the.
In an article published on Wednesday, The Guardian reported that a group of British lawmakers was urging Barclays' executives in the U.S. to stop making donations to Romney's campaign, and instead focus on repairing the damages done by the LIBOR scandal.
Barclays responded with a statement stressing that, "all political activity undertaken by Barclays' US employees, including personal fundraising for specific candidates, is done so in a personal capacity, and not on behalf of Barclays."
"Barclays is politically non-partisan, makes no political donations nor seeks to influence the political activities of its employees."
According to the newspaper, Patrick Durkin, head of Barclays investment banking branch, has raised $1 million for the Romney campaign.