December 7, 2011 / 2:55 AM / 8 years ago

Romney vows to visit Israel first if elected to White House

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will draw a contrast with President Barack Obama on Middle East policy on Wednesday and promise to bolster U.S. ties with Israel if elected next year.

Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney signs autographs and talks with supporters at the Hermosa Inn in Paradise Valley, Arizona, December 6, 2011. REUTERS/Laura Segall

In remarks to Jewish Republicans, Romney will promise to make a visit to Israel his first foreign trip if he becomes the Republican presidential nominee and goes on to oust Obama from the White House in next November’s election.

Republicans have complained that the Democrat Obama has favored the Palestinians over traditional U.S. ally Israel in the long-running Middle East dispute.

Obama angered the Israelis last May when he embraced a goal long sought by the Palestinians: that the state they seek in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip should largely be drawn along lines that existed before the 1967 war in which Israel captured those territories and East Jerusalem.

Romney, in a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition, will say Obama has proposed that Israel adopt “indefensible borders” and had been “timid and weak in the face of the existential threat of a nuclear war.”

“These actions have emboldened Palestinian hard-liners who now are poised to form a unity government with terrorist Hamas and feel they can bypass Israel at the bargaining table. President Obama has immeasurably set back the prospect of peace in the Middle East,” Romney will say, according to speech excerpts released by his campaign.

The Republican Jewish conference is to hear from all the major Republican candidates seeking the 2012 nomination, including surging Romney rival Newt Gingrich.

A theme throughout the speeches is certain to be the need to strengthen the U.S. commitment to Israel and ensure it remains a democratic bulwark in an unstable region threatened by the possibility of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“I will travel to Israel on my first foreign trip. I will reaffirm as a vital national interest Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. I want the world to know that the bonds between Israel and the United States are unshakable,” Romney will say.

Romney will also have strong words for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, saying he should be indicted for the crime of incitement to genocide under Article III of the Genocide Convention.

“The ayatollahs will not be permitted to obtain nuclear weapons on my watch. A nuclear-armed Iran is not only an Israel problem, it is problem for the United States and all the decent countries of the world,” Romney will say.

Editing by Jackie Frank

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