Romney snubs Abbas, meets with Fayyad

US Republican presidential nominee declares Jerusalem the capital of Israel

Ahead of a highly-anticipated policy address in Jerusalem, US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney met with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad early evening Sunday. But he did not request a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according to Palestinian media.

Later, in a speech to supporters and prominent Israelis, Romney declared Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel and said that the US has a “solemn duty and moral imperative” to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear capability. He made the comments against the backdrop of Jerusalem’s Old City, with some of his campaign’s donors in the audience, among them US billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

“Make no mistake, the ayatollahs in Iran are testing our moral defenses. They want to know who will object and who will look the other way,” he said. “We will not look away nor will our country ever look away from our passion and commitment to Israel.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met with Romney in Jerusalem earlier on Sunday, reiterated the need for a “strong” military threat to dissuade Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

“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,” Netanyahu said, welcoming Romney at the Prime Minister’s Office. “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.”

Romney, who arrived in Israel on Saturday as part of a three-country trip intended to boost his foreign policy credentials ahead of the November presidential elections, said he considers Netanyahu’s views on the Iranian threat “with great seriousness.”

He was looking forward to “chatting” with the prime minister “about further actions that we can take to dissuade Iran from their nuclear folly,” he added.

Romney also said he was curious to learn about the prime minister’s perspective regarding current developments in the region, such as in Syria and Egypt.

Earlier on Sunday, a top adviser to Romney’s campaign said a president Romney would back an Israeli attack on Iran. “If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing the capability, the governor would respect that decision,” Romney’s foreign policy adviser Dan Senor said.

‘Unfortunately, the tragedies of wanton killing are not only things of the past, but have darkened our skies in even more recent times’

During his second Israel visit in two years, the former Massachusetts governor showed awareness of the fact that many Israelis fast this Sunday to commemorate the destruction of both Jewish Temples and other catastrophes that befell the Jewish people through the ages.

“I’m honored to be here on the day of Tisha B’Av, to recognize the solemnity of the day and also the suffering of the Jewish people over the centuries and the millennia, and come with recognition of the sacrifices of so many,” Romney said. “Unfortunately, the tragedies of wanton killing are not only things of the past, but have darkened our skies in even more recent times.”

Romney had originally scheduled a fundraising dinner for Sunday night, right after the Tisha B’Av fast ends, but realizing the inappropriateness of the date his staff pushed the event off until Monday morning.

Romney canceled a planned meeting Sunday with Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich. Labor MK Isaac Herzog said he feared Romney had been “misled” by Netanyahu’s office, which didn’t want him to see the alternative Israeli leaderships.

On Monday, Yachimovich accused the Prime Minister’s Office of deliberately torpedoing her meeting with Romney. “I know Bibi is under pressure from Labor, but this is going too far,” said Yachimovich in an interview to Israel Radio.

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