WASHINGTON, USA (AFP) — White House hopeful Mitt Romney will travel to Israel this summer, his campaign said Monday, an apparent appeal to Jewish voters and donors who overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama in 2008.
The Republican challenging President Obama in November's election will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his Holy Land visit, a Romney aide confirmed. No additional details were provided.
The New York Times reported that Romney would also meet with Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad and Israeli President Shimon Peres, among other leaders, and hold at least one public event on a trip lasting one to two days.
It was unclear whether Romney would add his Israel trip to his planned visit to the Summer Olympics in London.
Romney said last month he would be the "opposite" of Obama in terms of US policy on Israel, and had vowed in March that his first foreign trip as president "will not be to Cairo, or Riyadh or Ankara, it will be to Jerusalem."
Obama visited all three Muslim capitals early in his presidency, but has yet to visit Jerusalem since taking office in January 2009.
Early this year, Romney said Obama "threw Israel under the bus" with regards to stalemated negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Romney and other Republican leaders have also been highly critical of Obama's "policy of procrastination" toward Iran, saying it is too weighted toward engagement with an Israeli enemy with nuclear ambitions.
Romney has vowed tougher sanctions against Iran if he is elected, backed by readiness to use military force to keep it from getting a nuclear weapon.
American Jewish voters supported Obama by about three to one against Republican nominee John McCain in 2008.
But a June poll by Gallup of Jewish registered voters showed such support slipping to 64 per cent, although that is still more than double the 29 per cent who said they would vote for Romney.
The White House offered a rapid response to news of Romney's Israel trip.
"Governor Romney has said he would do the opposite of what President Obama has done in our relations with Israel," Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said.
"Now he must specify how — does that mean he would reverse President Obama's policies of sending Israel the largest security assistance packages in history?
"Does it mean he would abandon the coalition working together to confront Iran's nuclear ambitions?"
Then-senator Obama made his own trip to Israel in the summer before the 2008 election.
In a foreshadowing of his presidential rhetoric, Obama vowed to forge an "unshakable" bond with the Jewish state and warned that a nuclear Iran would pose a "grave threat" that must be forestalled.
He held talks with top leaders, including then-prime minister Ehud Olmert, Peres and Netanyahu, who at the time headed the opposition Likud party. He also made a short trip to see Palestinian leaders on the occupied West Bank.
Obama's Israel visit was part of a longer swing, designed to bolster the freshman senator's foreign policy credentials, that also took in Jordan, Iraq, Germany, France and Britain.