Lynne Sladky, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is proposing the U.S. take a more assertive role in Syria, put conditions on aid to Egypt and tighten sanctions on Iran as he looks to use a planned foreign policy address to paint President Barack Obama as a weak leader who has limited America's influence on global affairs.
Declaring that "it's time to change course in the Middle East" and accusing Obama of "passivity," Romney on Monday plans to call for the U.S. to work with other countries to arm rebels in Syria with weapons that can defeat the "tanks, helicopters and fighter jets" that make up President Bashir al-Assad's army. Romney also plans to call for tougher sanctions on Iran than those already in place, and condition aid to Egypt on continued support for their peace treaty with neighboring Israel. He will emphasize his commitment to a two-state solution for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, a process he dismissed in during a secretly videotaped fundraiser in May.
Romney plans to make the comments at a major foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute. His campaign released excerpts of his prepared speech in advance. Aides previewing the speech in a conference call with reporters emphasized that the Republican, who took a hawkish tone throughout the GOP primary, would outline a "mainstream" foreign policy vision.
"Hope is not a strategy. We cannot support our friends and defeat our enemies in the Middle East when our words are not backed up by deeds," Romney plans to say in the address, adding that the U.S. should use its influence "wisely, with solemnity and without false pride, but also firmly and actively."
Romney's attempt to outline his approach as commander in chief comes amid turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa. Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon, Syria is locked in a civil war, peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are moribund, and anti-American protests have erupted in several countries. Attackers linked to al-Qaida killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, last month, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
The Republican has given several foreign policy speeches throughout the campaign, including one in Reno, Nev., ahead of a weeklong trip abroad in the summer. That trip was fraught, with Romney offending his British hosts by questioning their security preparations for the Olympic Games and raising hackles among Palestinians who charged him with racism after he said culture was part of the reason Israelis were more economically successful than the neighboring Palestinians.
In the fall, Romney faced criticism for his hurried and harsh reaction to news of protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and the near-simultaneous attacks in Libya. Before the administration knew of Stevens' death, Romney criticized Obama for sympathizing with the attackers. In the aftermath, top Republicans — including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the 2008 presidential nominee — urged Romney to give a speech laying out his vision for U.S. foreign policy.
The Obama campaign dismissed Romney's planned Monday address as a rehashed attempt to fix past blunders.
"We are not going to be lectured by someone who's been an unmitigated disaster on foreign policy every time he sticks his toe in the foreign policy waters," campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One on Sunday. The campaign prepared a TV ad calling Romney "reckless" and "amateurish" on foreign policy questions. Obama's aides also insisted Romney's speech included few specifics that were markedly different from the president's own record.
While Obama has held an edge in polls on handling foreign policy issues, Republican aides say the Benghazi attack — and ensuing questions about possible intelligence failures and lax security at the Libya consulate — has given Romney a new opportunity to criticize the president.
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