- (Photo: REUTERS/Nir Elias)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pointedly referred to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in a Sunday speech while visiting the Jewish nation.
"It's a deeply moving experience to be in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel," Romney said to cheers from the audience.
No U.S. president since 1967, when Israel captured Jerusalem in the Six-Day War, has called for recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Romney told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that he would like to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem if elected president, but would consult with Israeli leaders first.
Romney delivered the speech after visiting the Wailing Wall. Following custom, Romney put a sheet of paper with a written prayer in the wall and bowed his head in prayer with his hand on the wall. His rival in the presidential election, President Barack Obama, followed the same custom when he visited Israel while a presidential candidate in 2008.
The Wailing Wall is the remnant of a wall that once surrounded the Jerusalem Temple and is considered one of Judaism's most sacred sites.
Romney is in the middle of a three-nation tour that began in London for the Olympic opening ceremony and will end in Poland.
He emphasized the shared interests and values between Israel and the United States.
"We serve the same cause and we provoke the same hatreds in the same enemies of civilization. It is my firm conviction that the security of Israel is in the vital national security interests of the United States," Romney said.
"Israel and America are, in many respects, reflections of one another," Romney later added. "We both believe in democracy, in the right of every people to select their leaders, and choose their nation's course. We both believe in the rule of law, knowing that in its absence, willful men will be inclined to oppress the weak. We both believe that our rights are universal, granted not by our government, but by our creator."
Romney also mentioned the 1972 terrorist attacks on Israeli Olympians. The International Olympic Committee has been criticized for declining to hold a remembrance during the Olympics for the 40th anniversary of those attacks.
Preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, Romney argued, "must be our highest national security priority" and "we must use any and all measures" to prevent that from happening.
"Containment is not an option," Romney added.
While he has said he will not criticize Obama on foreign soil, there was a point in the speech that could be interpreted as being directed toward his rival.
"It's sometimes said that those who are most committed to stopping the Iranian regime from obtaining nuclear weapons are reckless and provocative and inviting war," Romney said. "The opposite is true. We are the true peacemakers. History teaches, with force and clarity, that when the world's most despotic regimes secure the world's most destructive weapons, peace often gives way to oppression, to violence or to devastating war."
In a March press conference, Obama had accused Republican presidential candidates of "beating the drums of war" with respect to Iran.
"And standing by Israel does not mean with military and intelligence cooperation alone," Romney added. "We cannot stand silent as those who seek to undermine Israel voice their criticisms, and we certainly should not join in that criticism. Diplomatic distance in public between our nations emboldens Israel's adversaries."
He ended the speech saying, "may God bless my country of America and may He bless and protect the nation of Israel. Thank you so much."