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Mitt Romney on trip to Afghanistan, Middle East

By Glen Johnson

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Jan. 9 2011 9:57 a.m. MST

BOSTON — Past and likely future Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney arrived Sunday in Afghanistan on a weeklong trip to the frontlines of the U.S. war zone and to the Middle East.

Senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said the former Massachusetts governor was scheduled to meet with President Hamid Karzai while in Afghanistan. He also met with Gen. David Petraeus, who is leading the U.S. war effort in the country.

In addition, Romney will "train Afghans and share with local leaders his views on issues of leadership, public service, economic opportunity and democratic participation," Fehrnstrom said.

Romney is proceeding later in the week to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan to meet with King Abdullah II.

The trip is Romney's second to the U.S. war zone. He visited Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan in 2006, ahead of his first campaign for president in 2008.

In 2007, he also spoke at the annual Herzliya Conference in Israel about the threat posed by Iran.

Romney is a former businessman whose work as a venture capitalist and in turning around the 2002 Winter Olympics gives him great strength on economic issues, an expected 2012 battleground as the country slowly recovers from the Great Recession.

Romney and Netanyahu worked together early in their careers at the Boston Consulting Group.

Yet, like other possible 2012 Republican contenders, Romney is still seen as having relatively little experience in foreign policy. In 2008, the successful GOP nominee — Arizona Sen. John McCain — was a Vietnam War veteran with extensive foreign policy experience.

Two other possible 2012 candidates, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, recently made foreign trips. Palin visited Haiti last month, while Pawlenty toured Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait in July with four other governors.

President Barack Obama, who is gearing up to run for the 2012 Democratic presidential nomination, tried to address a similar dearth of foreign policy experience as a first-term senator by making his first trip to Afghanistan in July 2008.

Last month, he made an unannounced visit as commander-in-chief.

The expenses for Romney's trip are being paid with a blend of personal funds and contributions from the International Republican Institute and the American Israel Education Foundation.

The institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group focused on advancing freedom and democracy. McCain is chairman of its board.

The foundation is a charitable organization affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

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