JERUSALEM — U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney, taking an aggressive stand on Iran, says Tehran's leaders are giving the world "no reason to trust them with nuclear material." He would "respect" an Israeli decision for military action to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear capability, a campaign adviser said.
"Make no mistake: The ayatollahs in Tehran are testing our moral defenses. They want to know who will object, and who will look the other way," Romney says in a foreign policy speech set for Sunday afternoon. "My message to the people of Israel and the leaders of Iran is one and the same: I will not look away; and neither will my country."
His campaign released excerpts of his remarks before the speech.
The address by the Republican challenger to President Barack Obama was promoted as the centerpiece of a weeklong trip abroad designed to burnish his foreign policy credentials and highlight his ability to lead on the world stage.
While the speech was before an audience of Israelis, the message was aimed squarely at Jewish and evangelical Christian voters in the United States as he tried to highlight policy differences with Obama.
The former Massachusetts governor says the nuclear threat has increased in recent years and that Iran's claims that its program is for peaceful purposes "are belied by years of malign deceptions."
"The conduct of Iran's leaders gives us no reason to trust them with nuclear material," he says in the speech, which followed a series of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials.
Romney, who received a warm welcome Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has said he has a "zero tolerance" policy toward Iran obtaining the capability to build a nuclear weapon.
"If Israel has to take action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing the capability, the governor would respect that decision," campaign foreign policy adviser Dan Senor told reporters in a preview of the speech.
Romney is careful to note that he believes preventing nuclear "capability," not just a nuclear weapon, is critical, Senor said.
Obama also has affirmed the right of Israel to defend itself, but in contrast to Romney, he has warned of the consequences of an Israeli strike on Iran.
"Already, there is too much loose talk of war," Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March. "Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in and to sustain the broad international coalition we have built."
Senor later clarified his comments in a written statement, saying that the candidate "believes we should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course, and it is his fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so. In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded."
Pentagon officials have spoken publicly about the difficulty of such a strike and American officials have expressed concern about the destabilizing effect such military action could have in the region, even if carried out successfully.
Romney, like Obama, believes the option of a U.S. attack should also be "on the table." He has said he will do "the opposite" of what Obama would do in his approach to Israel.
The Obama administration hasn't ruled out the military option, but Obama has so far been relying on economic sanctions and diplomatic negotiations to discourage Iran from building a nuclear bomb.
Iran says it is not interested in nuclear weapons and its nuclear program is for peaceful, civilian purposes. The Israelis say they are considering a strike because they fear Iran could be moving its nuclear enrichment sites further underground, out of reach of the weapons Israel has available.
Romney's embrace of Israel was on display Sunday as he met with leaders and visited the Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism.
Wearing a yarmulke, the candidate was mobbed by worshippers as he walked down to pray and place a note into one of the wall's crevices.
Earlier, Netanyahu welcomed Romney as "a representative of the United States" and told the Republican that he agrees with his approach to the Iranian nuclear threat.
"Mitt, I couldn't agree with you more," Netanyahu said.
"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. 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," Netanyahu said.
Iran's nuclear program has become the most pressing problem for the U.S. and Israel. Republicans have criticized the Democratic president for putting too much pressure on Israel in the peace process and being too weak on Iran.
Obama rejects the criticism, and his aides point to what they call unprecedented U.S.-Israeli security cooperation.
The trip is a chance for Romney to draw implicit contrasts with Obama and demonstrate how he would lead America on the world stage.
But Romney arrived in Jerusalem on Saturday night after a difficult few days in Britain, where he made the mistake of criticizing the host country's management of the Olympic Games. The gaffe undermined the stated goal of his weeklong journey through Britain, Israel and Poland — emphasizing America's ties with longstanding allies.
Romney has pledged not to criticize Obama while abroad, honoring the American tradition of leaving politics at the water's edge. But his aide's announcement of Romney's willingness to express support for an Israeli strike represents an effort to contrast the candidates.