Jerusalem (CNN) – Warning that a nuclear-capable Iran would lead to war, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Sunday pledged to support “any and all measures” to keep Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.
During what his campaign billed as a major foreign policy speech in Jerusalem, Romney said he hoped economic and diplomatic steps would deter the Islamic republic from pursuing the ability to develop nuclear weapons - but “no option should be excluded.”
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“It is sometimes said that those who are the most committed to stopping the Iranian regime from securing nuclear weapons are reckless and provocative and inviting war,” he said. “The opposite is true. We are the true peacemakers. History teaches with force and clarity that when the world's most despotic regimes secure the world's most destructive weapons, peace often gives way to oppression, to violence, or to devastating war.”
Standing with the Tower of David in the Old City of Jerusalem as a backdrop, Romney said the Iranian clerical leadership is “testing our moral defenses.” But he added, “We recognize Israel's right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with you.”
"My message to the people of Israel and the leaders of Iran is one and the same: We will not look away, and nor will my country ever look away from our passion and commitment to Israel," he said on a day that included meetings with Israeli leaders expressing concern about Iran.
Romney also referred to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a matter on which the United States has long kept its policy intentionally vague.
"It's a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel," Romney said, drawing a standing ovation from the crowd.
Jerusalem is among the “final status” issues left to be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians, who claim the eastern part of the city as the capital of a future independent state. A U.S. law passed in 1995 designates Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and stipulates the American embassy should move to the city from Tel Aviv. The past three presidents, however, have signed waivers suspending the law, citing security and diplomatic concerns.
The muscular speech comes after a bruising week for Romney, who irked British leaders when he appeared to question London's readiness to host the Olympic Games. Romney aides have barely touched on the diplomatic controversy since leaving London.
Among those attending the speech included wealthy casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who donated $10 million to a pro-Romney super PAC, despite backing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in the GOP primaries. Asked what he thought of the speech, Adelson gave a thumbs-up.
Without explicitly criticizing President Barack Obama on foreign soil, Romney also attempted to draw contrasts with Obama's foreign policy.
"With much of Middle East in tumult, with Iran bent on nuclear arms, America's vocal and demonstrated commitment to the defense of Israel is even more critical. Whenever security of Israel most in doubt - America's commitment to Israel must be most secure," he said.
In a briefing with reporters Sunday morning, Dan Senor, Romney's foreign policy spokesman, said Romney is not advocating war with Iran, only making clear what the options are should diplomacy fail.
"The governor believes that at this point, the only thing that could focus and force the minds of the Iranian leadership on ending their nuclear weapons, their path to a nuclear weapons capability, is the belief that the alternative is far worse," Senor said.
In a sign the White House is keeping close tabs on Romney's overseas trip, an Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, is reporting the Obama administration has informed Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu of a "contingency plan" to attack Iran should the nation develop nuclear weapons.
The Iran threat, along with the all-but-dead Middle East peace process, and the growing instability in Syria are among the expected topics Romney will address in closed-door meetings with Netanyahu and other Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
During a brief photo opportunity, Netanyahu seconded Romney's tough talk on the Iranian regime.
"Mitt, I couldn't agree with you more," Netanyahu said.
"We have to be honest and say that all the sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota. And that's why I believe that we need a strong and credible military threat coupled with the sanctions to have a chance to change that situation," he added.
The Israeli prime minister also acknowledged his decades-long friendship with Romney that dates back to when the two young men worked for a Boston consulting firm in the 1970's. "We were so young then. And for some reason, you still look young," Netanyahu remarked.
"We do have a friendship which spans the years," Romney added.
The exchange of pleasantries stood as a stark contrast with the cool relationship between Netanyahu and Obama.
Later Sunday, Romney also discussed the situation in front of reporters with Israeli President Shimon Peres, who warned against Iran becoming a nuclear power and argued the country "wants to dominate the Middle East."
While he agreed with the U.S. decision to impose harsh economic sanctions against Iran, Peres said "in order to make it serious," it needs to be clear "that all other options are on the table."
In addition to Peres and Netanyahu, Romney met with Kadima Party Leader Shaul Mofaz and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Before his speech, Romney also sat down for a series of interviews with U.S. broadcast and cable networks, including CNN.
In the morning briefing with reporters, Senor explained Romney supports a "two-state solution" for both Israelis and Palestinians in securing a path to peace in the Middle East.
But Senor added Palestinians and other Arab nations would have to understand such a resolution "represents the end of the conflict."
"There should be no right of return," Senor said.
"This is not a platform for new Palestinian refugees down the road to return to Israel. If there is a Palestinian state, that should be the home for Palestinians wanting to return to this region."