Gaffe Olympics: Romney rankles Brits, Cameron also offends

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney meets with British Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Streetâ
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney meets with British Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Streetâ
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

(CBS News) Mitt Romney was hoping his big overseas trip to Britain, Israel and Poland would get plenty of attention.

The visit has indeed earned the Republican presidential candidate headlines, but for all the wrong reasons.

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Romney's trip was designed to spotlight his foreign policy skills, but instead, on his very first stop, he ended up trying dig himself out of a diplomatic blunder after offending the Brits over their handling of the Olympics.

That blunder happened yesterday in an interview with NBC News when Romney talked about problems leading up to the the big games.

"There are a few things that were disconcerting -- the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials -- that obviously is not something which is encouraging," Romney told NBC News.

Romney's remarks became a full-blown controversy Thursday morning, when Prime Minister David Cameron -- asked in a press conference about disruptions in London's subway service -- defended the game's organizers.

We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest most active bustling cities anywhere in the world," Cameron said. "Of course it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere. I visited Naypyidaw recently, in Burma, they've got six-lane highways and no cars on them. This is a busy, bustling city so inevitably you're going to have challenges."

Cameron was making the point that it would be easier to run an Olympics in a less congested place. But the British press jumped all over the "middle of nowhere" remark, saying it had to be a dig at Romney and the Salt Lake City games he ran in 2002.

The spin sparked controversy back in the U.S.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker took offense at Cameron's supposed slam, saying, "We'd love to have him and are happy to send a map so he doesn't run into any trouble locating the middle of nowhere."

Romney also ran into trouble in the interview when he seemed to question the commitment of the British people to the games.


(Romney backtracks on comments on Olympics security.)

"Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment?" Romney said in the NBC News interview. "And that's something which we only find out once the games actually begin."

The prime minister offered assurances: Romney shouldn't worry.

"I think we'll show the whole world that we've not only come together as a United Kingdom, but also we're extremely good at welcoming people from across the world," Cameron said. "So I'll obviously make those points to Mitt Romney. I'm looking forward to our meeting.

This afternoon, in front of 80,000 people waiting for the arrival of the Olympic torch in London's Hyde Park, Mayor Boris Johnson took the opportunity to give a personal introduction to the presidential candidate -- though not the kind of greeting Romney would want.

"I hear there's a guy, there's a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we're ready. He wants to know whether we're ready. Are we ready, are we ready?" Johnson shouted to the screaming crowd. "Yes we are."

Thursday afternoon Romney tried to calm the storm. He told reporters he was impressed by the vision and the preparation of the game's organizers and he expects a highly successful Olympics. Prime Minister Cameron also told reporters he recognized Romney had run a successful Olympics and that he appreciated Romney's vote in confidence.

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    Jan Crawford is CBS News Chief Political and Legal Correspondent. She is from "Crossroads," Alabama.