Wooing American Jewish voters, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Wednesday assailed the Obama administration's Middle East policies and accused the president of hindering the peace process.
"These actions have emboldened Palestinian hard-liners who now are poised to form a unity government with terrorist Hamas and feel they can bypass Israel at the bargaining table," Romney told the Republican Jewish Coalition at a candidates' forum in Washington. "President Obama has immeasurably set back the prospect of peace in the Middle East."
Six GOP presidential candidates were scheduled to speak at Wednesday's forum.
Romney said that unlike Mr. Obama, who has moved to improve U.S. relations with the Arab world and has made several visits to the region, his first foreign trip would be to Israel. The bonds between the two countries should be "unshakable," he said.
"Three years in office and he hasn't found the time to visit Israel, our friend, our ally, the nation in the region that most shares our values," Romney said. "Over the last three years, Obama has instead chastened Israel."
Romney added that he would take a hard line against Iran and move decisively to prevent the regime from getting a nuclear weapon, treating Iranian diplomats "like the pariahs they are."
"The course of appeasement has long been the path chosen by the weak and the timid, and history shows that it's a path that we choose at our own peril," he said. "I will reaffirm as a vital national interest Israel's existence as a Jewish state."
Romney also used the forum to take a swipe at rival candidate Newt Gingrich, who has surpassed him in recent polls for front-runner status.
"I am not a creature of Washington. I am a creature of private sector ... I don't have a political career," said the former Massachusetts governor, attempting to distinguish is background from Gingrich's three decades in Washington.