WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney auditions on the international stage next week as he travels to England, Israel and Poland looking to establish credibility as a potential commander in chief in his challenge to President Barack Obama.
For the Republican presidential hopeful — a former private equity executive and Massachusetts governor with little formal experience overseas — it’s a chance to demonstrate competence in settings often occupied by presidents. He’ll hold formal meetings with foreign leaders, give public speeches and visit historic sites.
Aides say it’s a chance for the candidate to forge links with strong U.S. allies and show that he’ll stand up for shared values.
There’s also 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 meets 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 mostly has defined his foreign policy largely in terms of his opponent.
“If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon,” Romney said last year at a GOP primary debate focused on foreign policy.
The Israel visit comes on Saturday, when Romney will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Ambassador Daniel Shapiro and President Shimon Peres. Romney advisers won’t say if he will visit the West Bank, but he does plan a meeting with Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority prime minister.
The trip will be Romney’s fourth visit to Israel — he visited in 2011 and gave a speech at the Herzliya Conference in 2007, an address his advisers say will guide his visit next week.