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Romney Camp Comments On Israeli Action In Iran, Then Clarifies

If Israel felt it needed to strike Iran militarily to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons, Mitt Romney would "respect that decision," a top foreign policy adviser said today.

Dan Senor spoke with reporters ahead of the presidential candidate's speech in Israel, scheduled for later in the day. Senor was "outlining the aggressive posture" Romney would take in his speech toward Iran, The Associated Press reports. According to Al-Jazeera:

"Senor told reporters on Romney's plane that the candidate believes Iran developing a nuclear weapons capability is an existential threat to Israel and a threat to the U.S., as well."

Hours later, Romney ignored questions from reporters about the comments, CNN reports. Then the campaign issued a clarification:

"Gov. Romney believes we should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course, and it is his fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so. In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded. Gov. Romney recognizes Israel's right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with it."

Upon welcoming Romney today before the clarification, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said sanctions and diplomacy "so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota," the AP reports.

As NPR's Greg Myre has reported, tensions between Iran and Israel have been escalating in the last few years.

"Israel believes Iran is determined to acquire nuclear weapons capability, and has warned repeatedly that it's prepared to take military action if Iran's program is not halted. Iran, meanwhile, insists its nuclear program is for peaceful, civilian purposes."

The Obama administration has tried to avoid such a unilateral move by Israel, Al-Jazeera reports. Today, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz said President Obama's national security adviser has "shared with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the United States' contingency plans for a possible attack on Iran." According to Reuters:

"Haaretz said the secret briefing was the most significant effort by high-level U.S. officials who had visited Israel in the past month, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to try to dissuade Israel from launching its own military strike on Iran."

The briefing has not been verified by NPR.

The Obama administration is actively trying to shake charges by the Romney campaign that the president hasn't been harsh enough on Iran — or that he hasn't been supportive enough of Israel. As Frank James reported Friday:

"Romney's visit to Israel this weekend is meant to underscore the Republican's campaign message, aimed at Jewish and evangelical Christians voters, that he would be a more loyal ally to Israel than Obama has been."

Though Romney is eyeing Jewish voters during his time in Israel, a recent Gallup poll shows Jewish Americans "solidly" support Obama in the election.

Romney arrived in Israel Saturday night after a bumpy visit to Britain and before a trip to Poland on his foreign tour.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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