Now, following a strong debate performance, Romney will give the speech at the alma mater of former Secretary of State George Marshall, the architect of the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe in the wake of World War II. In the conference call previewing the speech, aides pointed to that connection to illustrate Romney's vision of leadership and engagement on the world stage. The advisers cast Romney as part of a long tradition of statesmen beginning with former President Harry Truman; adviser Rich Williamson said Romney would offer a "bipartisan" approach while aide Eliot Cohen referred to Romney as "very much in the mainstream of foreign policy."
Romney's outline of an approach to Syria comes at a critical time in part because the violence there has spilled over their border with Turkey. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Saturday the conflict between those neighboring countries could embroil the broader region.
Romney aides said that Romney would not call for direct U.S. aid to arm the Syrian rebels, but said he would support providing them with enough force to force Assad from power. In the speech, Romney plans to emphasize Iran's ties to the Syrian government and insist the U.S., through allies, should "support the many Syrians who would deliver that defeat to Iran rather than sitting on the sidelines." That would allow the U.S. to "develop influence with those forces in Syria that will one day lead a country that sits at the heart of the Middle East."
Obama's administration still seeks a peaceful political transition, even though the president acknowledged in August that the likelihood of a soft landing for Syria's civil war "seems pretty distant."
Obama called on Assad to step down more than a year ago and has sought consensus at the United Nations on a diplomatic power-transfer plan, but has been stymied repeatedly by Russia and China. Obama has stepped up U.S. humanitarian aid and nonlethal assistance to the political opposition, now at a combined $175 million.
But he has opposed directly providing weapons to the rebels or using U.S. air power to prevent Syrian jets from flying.
The administration says U.S. arms assistance would further militarize Syria and make it even harder to stabilize the country after Assad's downfall, which it insists is inevitable. And it says it still doesn't know the different fighting groups well enough to provide them guns, considering the small but growing influence of Islamist extremists among their ranks.
Associated Press writer Steve Peoples in Lexington, Va., White House Correspondent Ben Feller and writer Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.
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