Romney Hits Obama on Iran, Syria, Before Overseas Trip

Mitt Romney, heading for a six-day trip overseas to bolster his foreign policy credentials, accused President Barack Obama of weakening the U.S., blaming him for leaks of security secrets, dangerous defense-spending cuts and mistreatment of allies including Israel.

In a wide-ranging speech before he departed for England, the presumed Republican presidential nominee called for a tougher U.S. negotiating stance with Iran to cripple its nuclear program. He said a special counsel is needed to investigate what he called politically motivated disclosures of national security information by Obama’s aides.

Romney told the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno, Nevada, yesterday that Obama’s policies have “exposed the military to cuts that no one can justify, compromised our national-security secrets and, in dealings with other nations, he has given trust where it is not earned, insult where it was not deserved and apology where it is not due.”

The former Massachusetts governor called for the U.S. to insist that Iran cease all enrichment of uranium -- rather than limit it to 5 percent, as administration officials have indicated they might accept -- as part of any agreement on its nuclear program.

“A clear line has to be drawn,” Romney said, taking a position that mirrors Israel’s on Iran. “There must be a full suspension of any enrichment whatsoever, period.”

‘Romney Plan’

The proposal was included in a fact sheet and policy paper his campaign released as the candidate spoke, outlining what it called “The Romney Plan for an American Century.” In it, Romney’s campaign also says that, as president, he would move in his first 100 days to order the regular presence of aircraft carriers in the Eastern Mediterranean and Persian Gulf regions to “make clear that the military option is on the table.”

Romney also is proposing to condition the $1.3 billion in U.S. military assistance to Egypt on the nation maintaining its peace agreement with Israel. He would also tie $250 million in economic assistance for Egypt and an additional $2 billion in debt cancellation pledges and loan guarantees to “good governance and peaceful relations,” according to a fact sheet provided by Romney’s campaign.

“The United States is willing to help Egypt support peace and prosperity, but we will not be complicit in oppression and instability,” Romney said.

Biden Comments

Vice President Joe Biden dismissed Romney’s speech as “rhetoric and bluster” that “reflexively criticizes” Obama without providing alternatives.

In a statement, Biden said Romney has essentially laid out Obama’s policy on Iran, adding, “the only step he seems to think we should take that we are not already taking is to launch a war. If that is what the governor is for, he should tell the American people.”

During a campaign dominated by domestic economic issues, the overseas visit provides Romney, who has no direct foreign policy experience, with his first opportunity to assert himself on the international stage. His advisers say the trip offers him a chance to demonstrate statesmanship and fluency on foreign affairs and reassure U.S. voters that he can be an effective global player.

In a survey released July 12 by the Pew Research Center, Romney trailed Obama by eight percentage points among registered voters as the candidate best able to handle foreign policy, and by 12 points as best able to defend against a terrorist attack.

‘Strongest Nation’

“This is very simple: If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I am not your president,” Romney said in his speech yesterday. “You have that president today.”

He accused Obama’s team of divulging secret national- security information -- including details of the raid that killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden last year -- for political reasons.

“This conduct is contemptible,” Romney said, calling for an investigation and punishment of the perpetrators before the November elections. “Whoever provided classified information to the media, seeking political advantage for the administration, must be exposed, dismissed and punished. The time for stonewalling is over.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney, asked on Air Force One as Obama flew to Oregon yesterday whether any of the classified information Romney spotlighted was leaked from the White House, said there were two “experienced federal prosecutors” probing the leaks, and that Obama has “no tolerance” for such breaches.

Water’s Edge

Romney said he plans to leave politics largely at the water’s edge, refraining from attacking Obama while abroad, in line with the custom of not speaking ill of a sitting president from overseas.

He took the opposite tack before the VFW, denouncing as “shabby” Obama’s treatment of Israel and arguing that the president has undermined that nation’s position in the Middle East conflict.

He also blamed Obama for automatic defense cuts put in place by Congress last summer in an effort to force a bipartisan compromise on reducing the national debt that has yet to materialize.

“This is not the time for the president’s radical cuts in the military,” Romney said, calling the reductions a path to “devastation” that would weaken the Department of Veterans Affairs. “If I am president of the United States, I will not let that happen.”

Obama’s Speech

In a July 23 speech before the same audience, Obama stressed that his record -- ending the Iraq war, setting a timetable for a withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, authorizing the bin Laden raid and creating economic benefits for soldiers returning home -- demonstrates his support for current and former service members.

While Obama never mentioned Romney by name, he addressed the Republican’s criticism of him over the timetable for the troop withdrawal in Afghanistan and his accusation that the president’s policies have weakened the U.S. globally.

“There are those who argued against a timeline for ending this war, or against talking about it publicly,” Obama said. “But you know what? That’s not a plan for America’s security either.”

Romney in his speech accused Obama of having set a “politically timed retreat,” adding that his own goal as president would be “to complete a successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.”

Veterans’ Impact

Veterans, who exit polls showed accounted for about 15 percent of the electorate in the 2008 presidential election, may be influential this year in such toss-up states as Virginia, Florida and North Carolina.

Republican John McCain, a decorated former prisoner of war in Vietnam, captured 54 percent of the veterans’ vote in the 2008 presidential race compared with 44 percent for Obama. Still, support for Romney isn’t a foregone conclusion. Veterans narrowly favored Democrat President Bill Clinton, who was criticized for avoiding military service during Vietnam, over World War II veteran President George H.W. Bush in 1992.

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Reno, Nevada at   or Jdavis159@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net.

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