No difference between Romney and Obama on Iran

By Anshel Pfeffer, August 2, 2012

Despite Mitt Romney’s forceful rhetoric on Iran during his visit to Israel last weekend, the substance of his position differed very little from that of US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, who visited Jerusalem later in the week.

The Republican presidential candidate was careful not to openly criticise his rival, President Barack Obama, but succeeded in angering the Palestinian leadership.

Mr Romney had meetings on Sunday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Kadima Leader Shaul Mofaz, but did not go to Ramallah to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He had a short meeting with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad at his hotel.

The Palestinians were incensed when Mr Romney said that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel and that the differences between the Israeli and Palestinian economies are due to “culture”.

The Iranian situation was high on the agenda. Mr Romney said at a public address: “When Iran’s leaders deny the Holocaust or speak of wiping this nation off the map, only the naïve, or worse, will dismiss it as an excess of rhetoric,” and that his “message to the people of Israel and the leaders of Iran is one and the same: I will not look away”.

Despite his strident tones, at no point did Mr Romney go beyond the policy of the Obama administration that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons but that, for now, a military strike is the last option.
In veiled criticism of Mr Obama, he said that “standing by Israel does not mean with military and intelligence co-operation alone. 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.”

The visit by Mr Panetta, a senior Democrat and member of President Obama’s cabinet, was less overtly political.

Mr Panetta is just the last in a long line of senior defence officials arriving in Israel to try to ascertain whether Israel’s leaders are planning to order a strike on Iran’s nuclear installations. In public though, he was there to reassure Israelis that the Republicans were not the only ones who had their interests at mind.
Standing by Mr Netanyahu, the Defence Secretary said: “We will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, period.” He added that “we will exert all options in the effort to ensure that that does not happen. Make no mistake, we will remain determined to prevent Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

At a meeting with Defence Minister Ehud Barak, he went further, saying that the US has “other options and [is] prepared to implement them” and that “Iran must either negotiate acceptable limits on its nuclear programme or face the possibility of US military action to stop it from getting the bomb.”

Last updated: 12:42pm, August 2 2012