Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney assailed President Barack Obama's foreign policy in a speech Monday, saying the risk of conflict in the Middle East has grown under the president's leadership.
With his speech at the Virginia Military Institute, Romney hoped to undo a string of foreign policy stumbles, taking aim at an issue where polls show Obama holds a clear lead.
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Saying there is "a longing for American leadership in the Middle East," Romney called for the US to take a more assertive role in Syria. He also would impose tighter sanctions on Iran, he said.
"The relationship between the president of the United States and the prime pinister of Israel, our closest ally in the region, has suffered great strains," Romney said.
"The President explicitly stated that his goal was to put 'daylight' between the United States and Israel. And he has succeeded," he added. "This is a dangerous situation that has set back the hope of peace in the Middle East and emboldened our mutual adversaries, especially Iran."
He pledged to restore the relations with Israel and increase "military assistance and coordination" with the Jewish state.
“I will reaffirm our historic ties to Israel and our abiding commitment to its security,” he said. “The world must never see any daylight between out two nations.”
With the race growing tighter after Obama's poor performance in last week's presidential debate – the first of three – Democrats and Republicans now are looking to Thursday's debate confrontation between Vice President Joe Biden and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.
Romney in Virginia on Monday (Photo: AP)
And all in all both tickets are bearing down on their attempts to draw in the small percentage of voters who remain undecided in fewer than 10 states, with Iowa, Ohio, Virginia and Florida all set for candidate visits this week.
Signals to Iran, Syria
Romney intended his foreign policy speech as a vehicle to send tough signals on Iran and Syria.
"Iran today has never been closer to a nuclear weapons capability," he said. It has never posed a greater danger to our friends, our allies, and to us. And it has never acted less deterred by America.
"(…) I will put the leaders of Iran on notice that the United States and our friends and allies will prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. I will not hesitate to impose new sanctions on Iran, and will tighten the sanctions we currently have."
Romney cited the conflict in Syria as an indication that the "risk of conflict" in the Middle East has grown since Obama took office, and claimed the president has "failed to lead" in the war-torn country.
"In Syria, I will work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad's tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets," he said.
"Iran is sending arms to Assad because they know his downfall would be a strategic defeat for them. We should be working no less vigorously with our international partners to support the many Syrians who would deliver that defeat to Iran – rather than sitting on the sidelines. It is essential that we develop influence with those forces in Syria that will one day lead a country that sits at the heart of the Middle East."
Romney also made efforts to portray Obama as weak for his administration's changing explanation for the deadly attacks on the US consulate in Libya.
The Obama campaign was hitting back in advance.
"We're not going to be lectured by someone who has been an unmitigated disaster on foreign policy," Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Voters give Obama higher marks than Romney on questions of national security and crisis response, but world affairs in general are a distant priority compared with the struggling US economy, polling shows. Nevertheless, Romney will speak at Virginia Military Institute to broaden his explanation of how he would serve as commander in chief.
After the speech, Romney has a rally slated in Virginia, then events in Iowa and Ohio later in the week.
After polls recently suggested Obama had narrow leads in several swing states, the Romney campaign says the race is tightening following his strong performance in last week's debate. To help maintain his momentum, Romney has tweaked his message over the last week, highlighting his compassionate side and centrist political positions.
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