(NEW YORK) — From the Olympics to the Middle East, Mitt Romney is hoping to hit the reset button on a foreign trip that was supposed to show off his credentials as a statesman.
He may have his work cut out for him. Romney will be going from the U.K., the closest ally of the U.S., to the Middle East. It’s one of the most sensitive diplomatic arenas on earth, and he’ll be meeting with Israeli leaders at one of the most sensitive times of the year in the Jewish calendar.
The GOP presidential candidate’s mid-campaign foreign trip got off to a bad start when the British press turned on him in London after he said some of the country’s Olympic preparations were “disconcerting.” That led to several other minor gaffes as well as a rebuke from London’s mayor and the British prime minister. Romney tried to clarify his comments Friday, but the damage had been done as he faced a blizzard of unfriendly British headlines.
Who’s He Meeting?
Both the Israeli press and American reporters will be closely watching when he touches down in Israel.
On Saturday, Romney will meet with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the Palestinian National Authority. Sunday in Jerusalem, Romney meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres (mentioned frequently and fondly in Romney’s 2008 campaign stumps), and members of the Israeli opposition. He also meets with defense minister and former prime minister Ehud Barak and Israel’s ambassador to the United States, as well as other officials. He will also deliver a major foreign policy address. He’s notably not meeting with Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. His advisers say he’s meeting with Fayyad because they believe Fayyad is “committed to institution building, civil society institution building in Palestinian territories” as well as “security cooperation between the Israelis and Palestinians.”
In the Shadow of the President
The 36-hour trip, his fourth to the country, is now on the heels of President Obama’s announcement that he is releasing an additional $70 million in military aid for Israel to help the country boost production of a short-range rocket defense system, known as Iron Dome. The White House says the timing is merely a coincidence and not meant to upstage their opponent.
The presumptive GOP nominee has famously said he would “do the opposite” the president has done with regard to Israel and has continuously painted the Obama administration as anti-Israel. But he’s promised to abide by the “water’s edge” rule and not criticize the president while out of the country.
What Will He Say?
So what will Romney say in his speech if he has promised not to attack the president?
His foreign policy advisers say he won’t be laying out any policy prescriptions and instead say “the speech is really focused on the themes that he feels are definitional of the U.S.-Israel relationship, which is that these are two countries that share values, that share interests, and in many respects history.”
“The challenges and the threats to Israel are challenges and threats to America, and the opportunities awaiting Israel are the opportunities awaiting America. However, Israel has the added burden of living in a much more dangerous neighborhood than the United States,” adviser Dan Senor said. “And given that so many of the threats to our values, to our way of life, and to our system of government are threats that would impact both Israel and the United States … and we need to do that much more to lock arms with Israel’s leaders and convey to the world that we will treat threats to Israel as threats to America.”
Why is it a Somber Day?
The speech and meetings are on the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’av, a fast day that caps a week of mourning for the Jewish people in remembrance of the many tragedies they have suffered throughout history. Those traveling with Romney say he is sensitive to being in the country that day. And it seems his speech will aim to link the somber day with the threat Israel faces of a nuclear Iran, something Romney brings up on the stump quite frequently.
“Obviously it is against the backdrop of a holiday, a somber holiday in Israel, Tisha B’Av, that is anchored in remembrance, anchored in tragedy, anchored in survival, and anchored in perseverance,” Senor said. “This is a fitting set of themes and ideas given the threats and challenges that Israel and America face today. Specifically they relate to the prospect of Iran developing a nuclear weapons capability and the impact that would have on Israeli survival. And the need for Israeli perseverance and the need for the U.S. to stand by Israel as it seeks to persevere over these threats.”
Who Will Be at the Fundraiser?
Romney will dine with Netanyahu and his wife after the fast, and he will hold a small fundraiser Monday morning at the King David Hotel.
The famous hotel located in the center of Jerusalem is within walking distance of the Western Wall. The event will be small, with only about 20 to 30 attendees, according to the donor planning the breakfast. The price tag is $50,000 per couple or $100, 000 raised. Only American citizens can donate to campaigns and most of the attendees will be Americans living in Israel or visiting at the time because of Romney’s trip. Casino billionaire and Republican donor Sheldon Adelson is likely to attend. Adelson formerly supported Newt Gringrich’s campaign ($20 million) and has already donated at least $10 million in support of Romney, as part of his vow to spend $100 million to defeat Barack Obama.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Tom LoBianco, Deirdre Walsh and Tal Kopan, CNN
Stephen Collinson, CNN
Stephen Collinson, CNN
Ruth Brown, Idaho Press-Tribune