Presumptive Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney auditions on the international stage next week when he is scheduled to travel to the UK, Israel and Poland, looking to establish credibility as a potential commander in chief in his challenge to US President Barack Obama.
Aides say it is a chance for the candidate to forge links with strong US allies and show that he will stand up for shared values.
However, there is also a risk: Romney, sometimes prone to misstatements, faces higher stakes wading into delicate diplomatic disputes than he does on the more familiar campaign trail at home and executing a complicated trip through three countries over a weeklong span presents the most difficult logistical challenge Romney’s campaign has yet faced.
The centerpiece of the trip is a politically delicate visit to Israel, where he is scheduled to meet with top leaders who are closing in on a critical decision about whether to launch a military strike on Iran that is opposed by the Obama administration. The relationship with Israel and the question of what to do about Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons ambitions represent one of the starkest contrasts between Obama and Romney, who has mostly defined his foreign policy largely in terms of his opponent.
The Israel visit is scheduled for Saturday, when Romney will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US Ambassador Daniel Shapiro and Israeli President Shimon Peres. Romney advisers will not say if he will visit the West Bank, but he does plan a meeting with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
The trip will also allow him to reach out to Jewish voters in the US — and also to evangelical Christians, a critical portion of the Republican base traditionally zealous about protecting the Jewish state.
However, Romney’s advisers said he plans to be careful not to be seen obviously attacking the president while overseas, following longstanding tradition that US politicians do not criticize their own country’s leader while abroad.
For Romney, the trip will highlight an area where polls show he lags behind his Democratic opponent. A CBS/New York Times poll this week gave Obama a 47 percent to 40 percent lead over Romney on which candidate Americans think would better handle foreign policy.
Romney plans to outline his foreign policy vision in a speech on Tuesday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Reno, before flying to London and the Olympic Games. He goes to Israel from there and finishes in Poland. While abroad, he plans major speeches in Jerusalem and Warsaw, though advisers say he will steer clear of outlining specific policy proposals in those addresses.
Throughout the trip, Romney will face inevitable comparisons with Obama, whose overseas trip to seven countries during the 2008 campaign culminated with a speech to an audience of 200,000 at the Victory Column in Berlin.
At his first stop, in London, Romney plans meetings with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, Foreign Secretary William Hague and opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband. He also plans fundraisers, where attendees will likely include bankers and others from London’s financial sector.
The Olympics, which start on Friday in London, could also offer Romney opportunities for additional meetings with foreign leaders, many of whom will be there for the beginning of the games, although the official US delegation is headed by first lady Michelle Obama.