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Controversy Followed Romney On Overseas Trip


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, wrapped up a week-long foreign trip today, with a speech in Warsaw, Poland. His trip overseas, which began in London and then on to Jerusalem, was designed to bolster Romney's foreign policy credentials, but instead it's been riddled with gaffs and controversy.

Joining us now from Warsaw, is NPR's Eric Westervelt. Good morning.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So, Mitt Romney delivered a final speech, today, there in that city before heading back to the U.S. And what were his main points?

WESTERVELT: Well, the main focus of the speech, really, wasn't a foreign policy speech - he was praise for Poland. He called the country an economic and political success story. He said he and all Americans are inspired by the path of freedom tread by the people of Poland and that the country, in his words, is an example and defender of freedom. He mentioned Solidarity leader, Lech Walesa and the work of the late pope, John Paul II. His advisors had warned, you know, not to expect new foreign policy positions, Renee, during this trip, or today, and Romney did not lay out any new ideas today. In a speech earlier this year, he drew criticism - even from some fellow Republicans - when he said Russia is America's quote, "number one geopolitical foe."

Today, Renee, he didn't elaborate or expand on the U.S.-Russia relationship, other than saying that, in Russia, quote, "one's promising advances toward a free and open society have now faltered."

MONTAGNE: Well, during this trip, as I just mentioned, the media has paid a lot of attention to diplomatic missteps - first in London, and then comments Romney made in Israel that angered Palestinians. Today it was a Romney aid who had to apologize to reporters because he lost his temper. Tell us about that.

WESTERVELT: Well, that's right. Tempers, sort of, rising between the traveling press corps and the Romney campaign. Governor Romney has done some TV interviews, Renee, but he has not held any media availability for the traveling American press corps since taking a few questions in London at the beginning of this trip. And today, when some reporters who've been traveling with him shouted questions his way, after a wreath laying ceremony, a Romney press aid told one reporter to, quote, "shove it" - among other things. The aid later apologized and said he lost his temper and that it was inappropriate.

But this comes after the flap over comments Romney made at a fundraiser just before leaving Israel, in which he suggested cultural differences between Israelis and Palestinians were important factors as to why Israel is as to why Israel is so much more economically successful than the Palestinians. Palestinian officials called that simplistic and racist. The Romney camp said the comments were taken a bit out of context.

And then there was the stumble in London where Romney questioned the U.K.'s readiness to host the Games on the eve of the Olympics - that drew criticism the British media, London's mayor, and others.

MONTAGNE: Well, yesterday, in the city of Gdansk, there in Poland, Romney picked up the support of someone who might seem very important - quite a famous person: former President Lech Walesa, but that also turned out not to be without controversy.

WESTERVELT: Well, that's right, I mean, Walesa is icon here. He praised Romney in remarks after a closed door meeting. The Solidarity leader - former leader - basically endorsed Romney. He said Romney's leadership is needed, now, for the U.S., for Europe and the world. But the trade union organization, Solidarity, here, quickly issued a fairly strong statement, criticizing Romney, saying he's been hostile to workers rights and unions during his business career. Solidarity said it had no role in Romney's visit, and distanced itself from Walesa's comments and the candidate's visit.

MONTAGNE: Why was Poland part of this three country trip?

WESTERVELT: Well, in Romney's speech, today, he mentioned Poland as an important U.S. ally and he praised Poland as a free market, economic success story. And the country is doing better, Renee, than the rest of Europe - which is still mired in the euro debt crisis. Poland is not part of the eurozone, and last year, the country registered solid growth above four percent. The speech today was, you know, warmly received here, by Poles, and the visit may help him shore up support among American Catholics and Polish American voters. It was interesting to note that both in Gdansk and in Warsaw, Polish citizens I spoke with, so far, have said, you know, they were a bit surprised Romney was here for two days.

One man in Gdansk said, impossible, we're such a small country. Why is such an important person coming here?

MONTAGNE: NPR's Eric Westervelt speaking to us from Warsaw, Poland. Thanks very much.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.
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