Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s speech to his party’s convention in Tampa, Florida, went some way toward painting a clearer picture of Romney as a person and what his plans are for the economy, should he be elected on November 6.
Analysts say the speech was lacking in detail when it came to foreign policy, particularly on specifics about what Romney would do differently from President Barack Obama to deal with Iran’s nuclear program, which was the subject of a new update from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Romney and now his vice presidential running mate, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, spent the months before the GOP convention assailing Obama for what they call a lack of global leadership.
In Tampa, Romney asserted that “every American is less secure today because [President Obama] has failed to slow Iran’s nuclear threat.” Romney said: “In his first TV interview as president, he said we should talk to Iran. We’re still talking, and Iran’s centrifuges are still spinning.”
The reference to talks describes European Union-led discussions with Iran that so far have not produced a negotiated solution to the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.
The Obama administration rejects the Romney/Ryan line, which also includes the allegation by the GOP presidential nominee that Obama has “thrown Israel under the bus.”
Obama campaign response
As the president was traveling to Texas on Friday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about that remark, saying he had no assessments from Obama about what was said by Romney in Tampa.
Carney repeated the standard response, saying U.S.-Israeli cooperation “has never been greater.” The president, he said, is firmly committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, adding that while the window for a diplomatic solution remains open it is “absolutely the case that that window will not remain open indefinitely.”
Obama held out a hand to Iran’s leaders in the beginning of his administration, but over the past two years the United States, the European Union and other partners have steadily increased pressure on Iran with sanctions. The U.S. has also quietly been fortifying Gulf Arab allies with radar and missile defenses.
As Romney said, there is no doubt that the centrifuges are still spinning, as the IAEA report and analyses of it that have emerged show, though it is also clear that some parts of Iranian uranium enrichment efforts are having problems.
The report has helped intensify concern in Israel that Iran’s program is in fact designed to develop enough weapons-grade uranium for a nuclear weapon. That’s something Tehran denies. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said again recently that the use of nuclear weapons would be a “great and unforgivable sin.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes Iran is determined to acquire a nuclear weapon, though it remains to be seen what decision he and other leaders will make regarding any Israeli military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
A report in the The New York Times quoted an unidentified senior Israeli government official as saying the IAEA report “leaves us at this dead end… the more time elapses with no change on the ground in terms of Iranian policies, the more it becomes a zero-sum game.”
That August 30 New York Times report was co-written by David Sanger who authored the book “Confront and Conceal” which looks closely at Obama’s use of American power and his efforts to deal with threats, steps on Iran and cooperation with Israel, among other issues.
Back to the U.S. presidential race – among the numerous point-by-point responses (fact checks) the Obama campaign sent in response to Mitt Romney’s convention speech was one sharply rebutting the Republican nominee’s criticisms of the president’s Iran policy:
“FACT CHECK: President Obama Standing Up to Iran, Romney Has No Plan: Contrary to what Mitt Romney said in his speech tonight, President Obama has made it clear he will take no options off the table in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. In addition to applying the harshest sanctions Iran has ever faced and maintaining a robust diplomatic effort to build a collation [sic] to isolate Iran’s leaders, President Obama has made it clear containment is not his policy and that the military option is on the table. Meanwhile, Romney has failed to suggest anything he would do that President Obama isn’t already doing.”
The Obama campaign attached media articles, and excerpts from the president’s speech last April to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in which he said that options include “a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.”
Specifics on Iran missing from Romney/Ryan campaign speeches can be found on the Romney campaign web site. Romney would impose “crippling sanctions” on Iran and in recent interviews has said he would, as Obama has done, keep military options on the table.
Other Romney specifics: a “credible military option;” restoring a regular simultaneous presence of U.S. aircraft carrier task forces in the Eastern Mediterranean and Persian Gulf; increasing military coordination and intelligence sharing with and assistance to Israel and with Arab allies; a “fifth round of tougher sanctions” targeting Iran’s central bank and Revolutionary Guard Corps. Romney would get around Russian and Chinese objections by taking action “with as many willing governments as possible.”
But to one degree or another, analysts note that all of these are steps that have been taken or have certainly been considered and are in the toolbox of the Obama administration and U.S. military planners.
Iran as talking point
To the extent that Iran becomes a talking point on the campaign trail before November 6, Romney is likely to step up his criticisms of what he asserts was Obama’s “abdication of moral authority” by not supporting Iran’s Green Movement strongly enough in 2009. Romney would sharply increase support to the opposition.
At least at this point, Romney thinks there is also something to be accomplished by aiming more sharp rhetoric at Russia. He has previously referred to Russia as “our number one geopolitical foe.”
In Tampa, in the brief section of his speech discussing the European missile defense shield to guard against potential Iranian launches, he said: “Under my administration, our friends will see more loyalty, and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will see a little less flexibility and more backbone.”
That has not played well in Russia, where media reports were critical of Romney, and a spokesman for Putin said Moscow and Washington had frequently discussed “that it is inadmissible for bilateral ties to fall victim to pre-election debates.”
Dan Robinson has been Voice of America's Senior White House Correspondent since 2010, arriving from Capitol Hill where he covered the House of Representatives from 2002 to 2009. He is also a former bureau chief for VOA in Southeast Asia, and East Africa, and headed VOA's Burma broadcast service between 1997 and 2001.