By Jim Acosta
Jerusalem (CNN) — In a major foreign policy move scheduled for late Sunday in Israel, Mitt Romney will deliver an unmistakable warning to Iran that war is inevitable should the Islamic Republic develop nuclear weapons.
“Make no mistake: the ayatollahs in Tehran are testing our moral defenses. They want to know who will object, and who will look the other way,” Romney will say in his speech, according to excerpts of the address released by his campaign.
“My message to the people of Israel and the leaders of Iran is one and the same: I will not look away, and neither will my country,” he is expected to add.
The muscular speech comes after a bruising week for Romney, who irked British leaders when he appeared to question London’s readiness to host the Olympic Games. Romney aides have barely touched on the diplomatic controversy since leaving London. The campaign’s focus is squarely on resetting the trip’s narrative in a region where Romney hopes to draw contrasts with President Barack Obama’s foreign policy – without explicitly criticizing Obama on foreign soil.
In a briefing with reporters Sunday morning, Romney’s senior adviser on Middle East affairs, Dan Senor, said the GOP contender is not advocating war with Iran, only making clear what the options are should diplomacy fail.
“The governor believes that at this point, the only thing that could focus and force the minds of the Iranian leadership on ending their nuclear weapons, their path to a nuclear weapons capability, is the belief that the alternative is far worse,” Senor said.
Senor, a former spokesman for the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority during the Iraq war, said Romney would also support Israeli leaders should they decide to act unilaterally.
“If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that capability, the governor would respect that decision,” Senor said.
In a sign the White House is keeping close tabs on Romney’s overseas trip, an Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, is reporting the Obama administration has informed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of a “contingency plan” to attack Iran should the nation develop nuclear weapons.
The Iran threat, along with the all-but-dead Middle East peace process, and the growing instability in Syria are among the expected topics Romney will address in closed-door meetings with Netanyahu and other Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
During a brief photo opportunity, Netanyahu seconded Romney’s tough talk on the Iranian regime.
“Mitt, I couldn’t agree with you more,” Netanyahu said.
“We have to be honest and say that all the sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota. And that’s why I believe that we need a strong and credible military threat coupled with the sanctions to have a chance to change that situation,” he added.
The Israeli Prime Minister also acknowledged his decades-long friendship with Romney that dates back to when the two young men worked for a Boston consulting firm in the 1970’s. “We were so young then. And for some reason, you still look young,” Netanyahu remarked.
“We do have a friendship which spans the years,” Romney added.
The exchange of pleasantries stood as a stark contrast with the cool relationship between Netanyahu and Obama.
Later Sunday, Romney also discussed the situation in front of reporters with Israeli President Shimon Peres, who warned against Iran becoming a nuclear power and argued the country “wants to dominate the Middle East.”
While he agreed with the U.S. decision to impose harsh economic sanctions against Iran, Peres said “in order to make it serious,” it needs to be clear “that all other options are on the table.”
In addition to the speech, Romney will sit down for a series of interviews with U.S. broadcast and cable networks, including CNN.
In the briefing with reporters, Senor explained Romney supports a “two-state solution” for both Israelis and Palestinians in securing a path to peace in the Middle East.
But Senor added Palestinians and other Arab nations would have to understand such a resolution “represents the end of the conflict.”
“There should be no right of return,” Senor said. “This is not a platform for new Palestinian refugees down the road to return to Israel. If there is a Palestinian state, that should be the home for Palestinians wanting to return to this region.”
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