After weeks of rumors, an aide to Mitt Romney confirmed Monday that the Republican presidential candidate is planning a trip to Israel this summer.
No firm date has yet been fixed for the visit, which will be his second to the Jewish state in less than two years.
Romney has already said publicly he would make Israel his first destination if elected president. President Barack Obama visited Israel as a candidate in 2008, but has not been back as president.
Romney last visited Israel in January of 2011, before he had formally declared his candidacy, and was hosted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his Jerusalem residence. He also visited Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan on that trip.
Netanyahu issued a statement after their meeting saying the two men discussed security issues, including the threat posed by Iran. Romney has been highly critical of Obama’s handling of the Iranian nuclear drive. Notably, in a March 5 article in the Washington Post, Romney described Obama as America’s “most feckless president since (Jimmy) Carter,” warned that with Obama in the White House Iran was on course to acquiring nuclear weapons, and vowed that, if elected, he would take “every measure necessary” to “check the evil regime of the ayatollahs.”
During the Republican presidential primary, Romney accused Obama of throwing Israel, in his words, “under the bus.” Romney has also said that his policy toward the Jewish state would be the opposite of Obama’s.
Republican lawmakers have for weeks been encouraging Romney to visit Israel ahead of the US presidential elections, saying that such a trip would push more American Jewish voters into his camp, and have a wider positive impact on his campaign.
Republicans told the Congressional newspaper The Hill in May that a trip to Israel would emphasize the fact that Obama has yet to visit Israel during his term of office, and thus give Romney an edge in the upcoming US elections.
Advisers believe that a trip to Israel by Romney would also advance US-Israeli relations.
In December 2011 Romney told the Republican Jewish Coalition’s Presidential Candidates Forum: “I will travel to Israel on my first foreign trip. I will reaffirm as a vital national interest Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. I want the world to know that the bonds between Israel and the United States are unshakable.”
Obama visited Israel in 2008 while he was a presidential candidate but has not been back since. During his presidency he has visited some 30 other countries.
AP contributed to this report.