* Republican candidate seeks support from Jewish voters
* Romney takes tough stance on Iran in foreign policy speech
* Aide: Romney would back Israeli strike over Iran nuclear
By Steve Holland
JERUSALEM, July 29 U.S. Republican candidate
Mitt Romney, presenting himself as Israel's best friend in the
Nov. 6 presidential election, said on Sunday that "any and all
measures" must be used to keep Iran from developing a nuclear
A top aide said Romney would support an Israeli military
strike if all options had been exhausted, but the candidate
himself balked at repeating that position.
In a foreign policy speech in Jerusalem, Romney voiced
strong support for the alliance between the United States and
Israel and seemed to suggest that President Barack Obama had let
the relationship flounder.
"We cannot stand silent as those who seek to undermine
Israel voice their criticisms. And we certainly should not join
in that criticism. Diplomatic distance in public between our
nations emboldens Israel's adversaries," said Romney, the walls
of the Old City lining the hilltop behind him.
The former Massachusetts governor was in Jerusalem on the
second leg of a trip to strengthen his foreign policy
credentials in his race to unseat Obama.
"We should employ any and all measures to dissuade the
Iranian regime from its nuclear course, and it is our fervent
hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so. In the
final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded. We
recognize Israel's right to defend itself, and that it is right
for America to stand with you," he said.
Though he adopted an aggressive tone, Romney did not go as
far as his senior foreign policy advisor, Dan Senor, who said
earlier: "If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to
stop Iran from developing that capability, the governor would
respect that decision."
The aide's comments put Romney at odds with Obama's efforts
to press Israel to avoid any pre-emptive strike before tough
Western economic sanctions against Iran run their course.
Romney, however, refused to repeat them when asked by CBS'
"Face the Nation."
"Well I think because I'm on foreign soil I don't want to be
creating new foreign policy for my country or in any way to
distance myself in the foreign policy of our nation. But we
respect the right of a nation to defend itself," Romney said.
The failure of talks between Iran and six world powers to
secure a breakthrough in curbing what the West fears is a drive
to develop nuclear weapons has raised international concern that
Israel may opt for a military strike.
'STRONG MILITARY THREAT'
The presidential hopeful was greeted warmly earlier by
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an old friend of his,
who has at times had a strained relationship with Obama.
Netanyahu issued his customary call for stronger measures
behind the sanctions to prevent Iran from developing an atomic
bomb, which Israel says would be a threat to its existence. Iran
says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
"We have to be honest that sanctions have not set back the
Tehran program one iota and that a strong military threat
coupled with sanctions are needed to have a chance to change the
situation," Netanyahu said.
Israel, widely assumed to be the Middle East's only
nuclear-armed state, has warned it is only a matter of time
before Iran's nuclear program achieves a "zone of immunity" in
which uranium enrichment facilities buried deep underground will
be invulnerable to bombing.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta , arriving in Tunisia at
the start of a week-long trip to the Middle East and North
Africa, defended U.S.-Israeli defense cooperation under
"I'm not going to comment on what political candidates say
or don't say," Panetta said.
"I'm proud of the defense partnership that we've built over
the past several years. The U.S.-Israel defense relationship, I
believe, is stronger today than it has been in the past," the
Pentagon chief told reporters traveling with him.
Though Washington has been pressing Israel not to launch a
solo strike on Iran, Obama has not ruled out military action if
diplomacy fails to curb Iran's nuclear drive.
Panetta said his view is that the Israelis "have not made
any decisions with regards to Iran and that they continue to
support the international effort to bring pressure against
In an effort that appeared timed to upstage Romney's visit
to Israel, Obama signed a measure on Friday to strengthen
U.S.-Israeli military ties.
Romney's overseas tour got off to a rocky start, when he
angered the British by questioning whether London was ready for
the Olympics, a statement he was forced to clarify after a
rebuke from Prime Minister David Cameron.
His visit to Israel gives him the opportunity to appeal to
Jewish voters and pro-Israel evangelical voters and contrast
himself with Obama.
Romney has sharply criticised Obama's handling of Iran as
not being tough enough.
After talks with Israeli leaders, Romney met Palestinian
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. He then visited the Western Wall,
Judaism's most revered site.
Wearing a black Jewish skullcap and surrounded by a
determined throng of security personnel who cleared a path for
him, Romney carefully navigated his way through hundreds of
worshippers, some of whom shouted cries of support.
Romney ends his trip on Monday with a fundraiser for a crowd
of mostly Jewish Americans who live in Israel.
The Romney campaign initially declared the fundraiser
off-limits to reporters, but on Sunday said it would allow press
coverage after journalists complained the campaign was reneging
on a prior agreement to open more of its finance events.