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Presidential candidate Mitt Romney spent the weekend in Israel and waded into two of the most sensitive geopolitical issues in the region - how to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions and where is the right place for the U.S. Embassy in Israel. Romney held a fundraiser today before leaving for Poland, which is the last stop on his three-nation tour.
From Jerusalem, Sheera Frenkel reports.
(SOUNDBITE OF A CROWD)
SHEERA FRENKEL, BYLINE: A crowd gathered at Jerusalem's Western Wall Sunday to mark the Jewish holiday of Tisha B'Av. Mitt Romney and his entourage received a warm welcome as they arrived at the iconic Jewish site.
(SOUNDBITE OF A CROWD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: God bless America. God bless America.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Here comes the next president, here comes the next president...
FRENKEL: Men could be heard calling out well-wishes, ranging from: Beat Obama to Israel loves you. Romney's reception in Israel was a marked contrast with his first stop in London when news media highlighted a series of diplomatic gaffes.
Romney's advisors said that they hoped this trip would establish the former Massachusetts governor's foreign policy credentials, but that he did not plan on unveiling any new policy proposals. In a foreign policy speech at a conference center outside Jerusalem's old city, Romney took a hard line on the Iranian nuclear threat.
MITT ROMNEY: We must lead the effort to prevent Iran from building and possessing nuclear weapons capability. 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.
FRENKEL: That line received a standing ovation from the crowd, which included Americans who had flown to Israel for the weekend, such as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
Romney's statement softened comments made earlier in the day by his senior policy advisor Dan Senor. In a briefing to reporters, Senor said Romney would support a unilateral military strike by Israel.
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: Romney's speech on Sunday drew another standing ovation when he declared that Jerusalem was Israel's capital.
ROMNEY: It is a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.
FRENKEL: The United States does not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It keeps its embassy in Tel Aviv and maintains only a consular office in Jerusalem. In an interview with CNN, Romney repeated his view that he considers Jerusalem the capital of Israel. But he stopped short of promising to move the U.S. Embassy.
ROMNEY: I'm not going to make foreign policy for my nation, particularly while I'm on foreign soil. My understanding is that the policy of our nation has been a desire to move our embassy ultimately to the capital. That's something which I would agree with. But I would only want to do so and to select the timing in accordance with the government of Israel.
FRENKEL: Palestinian officials condemned Romney's comments, calling them unhelpful. In peace talks, Palestinian negotiators have named East Jerusalem as the capital of their proposed future state. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was the only Palestinian official to meet with Romney. Speaking to NPR before that meeting he said his message to Romney would be of maintaining current U.S. policy on the peace negotiations.
SALAM FAYYAD: In order for two-state solution to come to fruition, there should be no contradiction from the point of view of the United States. That's established policy. And we trust that's what the policy of the United States administration should be, whether it's going to be an Obama administration or a Romney administration.
FRENKEL: Romney did not bring up the two-state solution or peace talks during his evening address in Jerusalem, though it was mentioned in earlier meetings with top officials.
Before leaving Israel for Poland, Romney hosted a fundraiser attended by dozens of his supporters, both from Israel and abroad. Republican advocates for Romney in Israel confirmed that couples were asked to donate $50,000 or raise $100,000 for his campaign. Most of his remarks at the fundraiser were closed to the press, but one of the attendees told NPR that he kept the breakfast conversation light and easy.
For NPR News, I'm Sheera Frenkel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.