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Romney: US has 'solemn duty' to prevent Iranian threat to Israel

In Jerusalem Sunday, Mitt Romney said the U.S. should "employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course." NBC's Peter Alexander reports.



JERUSALEM – Presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney told an audience of supporters here Sunday that the United States has a "solemn duty and a moral imperative" to do whatever necessary to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons that could threaten the existence of Israel, a vital American ally.

Romney focused on the specter of a nuclear-capable Iran and pledged the U.S. would never forget past horrors or turn its back on Israel.

"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. Make no mistake: The ayatollahs in Tehran are testing our moral defenses," Romney said. "They want to know who will object, and who will look the other way. 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."

"We have a solemn duty and a moral imperative to deny Iran’s leaders the means to follow through on their malevolent intentions," Romney said.

Speaking in Jerusalem, Mitt Romney says, preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons "must be our highest national security priority." Watch his entire speech.

Romney reiterated his belief that Iran is a vexing national concern to both Israel and the U.S. – suggesting, as a Romney aide did earlier today that the U.S. would not block a unilateral Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear program if diplomatic options failed.

Mitt Romney would respect Israel strike on Iran, aide says

"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," Romney said. "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."

Uriel Sinai / Getty Images

Presumptive GOP candidate Mitt Romney spoke outside the Old City on Sunday, where he said he supports Israel's right to defend itself against the threat of a nuclear Iran. He is in Israel as part of a three-nation foreign diplomatic tour which also includes visits to Poland and the U.K.

Romney had nothing but kind words for his host nation, praising Israeli values as fitting hand-in-glove with America's.

"Our two nations are separated by more than 5,000 miles. But for an American abroad, you can’t get much closer to the ideals and convictions of my own country than you do in Israel," Romney said. "We’re part of the great fellowship of democracies. We speak the same language of freedom and justice and the right of every person to live in peace."

Mitt Romney visits Western Wall, one of holiest sites in Judaism

In a line clearly inserted for his audience, Romney said it was "a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel," earning his longest sustained ovation. (Israelis consider the united Jerusalem their capital, but many nations, including the U.S., have their embassies in Tel Aviv.)

The speech here Sunday capped a whirlwind day for the former Massachusetts governor, who met with top Israeli political leaders, Daniel Shapiro, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel appointed by Obama and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. He visited one of Judaism's most holy sites, the Western Wall, and will dine, with wife Ann and son Josh, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family.

A cadre of top Romney donors, including New York Jets owner Woody Johnson and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, attended the speech and will also take part in a fundraising breakfast Monday that is expected to bring in seven figures for the campaign's war chest.

Political analysts have said that for Romney to win over Israelis (and perhaps American Jews and other supporters of Israel in the U.S.), he would need to show more warmth than President Barack Obama in his personal dealings here. Romney endeavored to do just that all day, calling Netanyahu, "my friend Benjamin Netanyahu."

He also chatted up Fayyed about the 2012 London Games.

Concluding his remarks Sunday, Romney alluded to the importance of presenting a united front with his host country.

"Standing by Israel does not mean with military and intelligence cooperation alone. We cannot stand silent as those who seek to undermine Israel voice their criticisms," Romney said. "And we certainly should not join in that criticism. Diplomatic distance in our public, between our nations, emboldens Israel's adversaries."