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Romney In Israel After Rocky Start To Foreign Tour


This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene. The presumptive Republican nominee for president, Mitt Romney, is holding meetings today in Israel with top Israeli officials, and also with the Palestinian prime minister. This morning, Gov. Romney made a visit to the Wailing Wall.

This is the second stop on a much-anticipated overseas trip that got off to a rocky start, in London. Sheera Frenkel is joining us on the line from Jerusalem, to update us on the trip. And Sheera, good morning.

SHEERA FRENKEL, BYLINE: Hi, good morning.

GREENE: So how has the reception been for Romney in Israel, so far?

FRENKEL: The Israelis have really rolled out the red carpet for Romney; especially Netanyahu, who has gone out of his way several times now, to say that they have a longstanding friendship, and one that goes back several decades. And you have to remember, this comes on the back of London, where Romney really saw several stumbles, and not a very warm reception from the British press.

The Israelis, on the other hand, have really - sort of embraced him and invited him into their offices, posing photographs with him with - you know, hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm. And I think we're going to see photos that come out of this trip which are going to show Romney and Netanyahu looking very, very comfortable with each other; smiling, back-patting. They both mentioned that they're going over to eat dinner with their families tonight, and that they're excited to catch up. So the Romney team is really trying to present a picture here that he's the guy that has the closer ties and the sort of - closer friendships, with the Israeli side.

GREENE: And Sheera, you do mention this longstanding friendship between Mitt Romney and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They actually worked together some decades ago, at a consulting firm in the United States. And Romney was very critical of President Obama's handling of Israel, before this trip. What has Romney said on the ground so far?

FRENKEL: You know, the message so far has really been one of support, and shared interest, between the United States and Israel. In the meetings we've seen so far - which is with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and with Israeli President Shimon Peres - Romney has talked at great length about the need to stop Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program. And Romney took care to use language which we've heard quite often from Netanyahu himself; calling Iran an existential threat. This morning during a briefing with reporters, Romney's senior foreign policy adviser, Dan Senor, gave what he said were excerpts from a speech that we're going to hear tonight, from Romney.

DAN SENOR: We in the West, partnering with Israel, should do everything we can from - stopping Iran from developing that weapons capability. And if Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that capability, the governor would respect that decision.

FRENKEL: And a couple hours later, Romney's team issued a clarification on that - actually emailing reporters, to say that Romney believed that any and all measures should be taken to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course; but added that it was his fervent hope that economic and diplomatic measures would do so. So we've seen a bit of a backtracking on that original, strong statement. But it's left to be seen what sort of language Romney will actually use in his speech tonight.

GREENE: When a presidential candidate goes on a foreign policy trip like this, obviously, I suppose, one thing is - that he wants to do is, show his stature on the world stage. But are you getting a clear sense of what Romney hopes to accomplish on this visit?

FRENKEL: He really wants to appear as statesmanlike as possible. He wants to make it clear that he has foreign policy credentials. And speaking with his organizers here, they said that this was a trip that's also - sort of, in its central message, is meant to woo Jewish voters. And in addition - we have to remember it as being a political move - it's also a fundraising trip. On Monday morning - tomorrow, before he leaves to his final leg in Poland, he's going to be holding a fundraiser breakfast in the Jerusalem King David Hotel. We understand that Romney might be making policy statements at that fundraiser, and that they've asked couples who arrive - to either contribute $50,000, or to raise $100,000 for the campaign. Some of the really big names on that list are people who flew all the way from the United States to attend; like Sheldon Adelson, a longtime supporter of the Republican Party and other conservative movements.

GREENE: And Sheera, one last question. Has the Israeli press kind of caught on, and covered the events and some of the criticism from London? Or does Romney really have a fresh start, in some ways, here?

FRENKEL: The Israeli press here has actually mentioned that there were some gaffes, as they called them, in London; and that Romney had not received a very warm welcome from the British press. They noted, however, that they were expecting it to be much warmer. The Israeli press themselves said that they expected to be writing glowing reviews of Romney's meeting with Netanyahu.

What they actually write, we'll only know tomorrow. I know that some members of the Israeli press were upset that they were not given access to Romney, or that any members of the Hebrew press were given interviews today. So there might be a bit of bitterness on that front. But by and large, it seems as though they have caught on to that spirit of - sort of friendship and warmth.

GREENE: All right. Sheera Frenkel in Jerusalem for us, covering Republican Mitt Romney's visit to Israel. Sheera, thanks so much.

FRENKEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.