Romney stays on message in Poland after UK, Israel missteps
By NBC News staff and wire reports
Updated 7:17 a.m. ET: WARSAW, Poland — Capping a weeklong foreign trip, Mitt Romney on Tuesday praised the people of Poland for marching toward “economic liberty and smaller government” rather than “heeding the false promise of a government-dominated economy.”
In a speech Tuesday in Poland’s capital, Warsaw, the Republican presidential candidate also lauded Poland for its higher living standards and strong military.
The presumptive Republican nominee’s thee-country trip had been intended to project the image of a leader ready to stand on the world’s stage but has been sidelined somewhat over alleged missteps in Britain and Israel.
Romney’s comments in Poland fit into his campaign’s themes of smaller government, reduced federal spending and fewer regulations on business. He says Poland is thriving because it sought to “stimulate innovation, attract investment, expand trade and live within its means.”
Romney said Poland’s success was a reminder that “free enterprise can propel an economy and transform a society.”
Earlier Tuesday, Romney met with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski. The two men discussed the longstanding ties between the two nations as well as the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan.
Poland has also been a significant contributor to military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“On behalf of our countrymen, I express deep appreciation for your willingness to fight with us, to stand with us, and to be our friends in times of crisis and military conflict,” Romney said.
“Poland has excellent ties with the United States, regardless of which American party is in power,” Sikorski said. “We remember Ronald Reagan’s warm feelings for Poland’s Solidarity and also the fact that we joined (NATO) during Bill Clinton’s term.”
The two-day trip to Poland is aimed at Polish-American and Catholic voters in the United States and highlighted Romney’s stance toward Russia. He has labeled Russia as America’s “No. 1 geopolitical foe,” a characterization that’s not unwelcome in a country that still fears Russia. Poles generally have been skeptical of President Barack Obama’s “reset” with Russia, and Romney has cited Polish concerns in his criticism of Obama.
As a former Soviet Bloc nation that has been subjugated by bigger European powers throughout history, Poland remains particularly worried about Russian policy.
Romney received words of encouragement on his visit to Poland on Monday from Lech Walesa, a former union leader and ex-Polish president, who said: “I wish you to be successful because this success is needed for the United States of course, but for Europe and the rest of the world too. Governor Romney, get your success. Be successful.”
But Solidarity, the union led by Walesa in the 1980s that helped topple communism in Poland, distanced itself from Romney, who it said “supported attacks on trade unions and employees’ rights.”
Romney angers Palestinians Earlier, Romney was forced to fight off controversy after he called Jerusalem the Israeli capital and said later that differences in culture powered Israel’s economic success compared with the Palestinians.
Both comments angered Palestinian leaders, just days after Romney annoyed Britons during a stop in London by questioning their readiness to host the Olympic Games.
However, Romney’s comments on Sunday about Jerusalem prompted a strong response.
The Palestinians want to establish a capital in east Jerusalem, captured and annexed by Israel in 1967. Most of the world, including the United States, does not recognize the annexation. Every U.S. administration since Lyndon Johnson has decided to keep the American embassy in Tel Aviv.
But on Sunday, Romney said flat out that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and strongly suggested he would move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem if he were president, supporting two key Israeli demands.
The fate of Jerusalem is one of the main sticking points in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will not give up any part of the city, taking a harder line than two of his predecessors who were ready to discuss partition.
Previous U.S. presidential candidates, including then-Sen. Obama in June 2008, have referred to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital ahead of elections, only to row back when taking power and suggest the issue should be resolved by negotiations.
Seeking American Jewish and fundamentalist Christian votes, Romney has criticized Obama on Israel, alleging last year that the president had “thrown Israel under a bus” in pushing hard for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
In 2008, Obama won 78 percent of the Jewish vote, a lead into which Romney’s campaign would love to make inroads.
Romney points to ‘culture’ gap Romney pointed to the big difference in wealth between Israel and the Palestinians and suggested Israel’s culture was the reason for the gap.
“If you could learn anything from the economic history of the world, it’s this: culture makes all the difference,” he told a fundraising event in Jerusalem.
The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat said that Romney’s comments amounted to “a racist statement that shows a lack of knowledge.”
He added, “Everyone knows that the Palestinians cannot reach their full potential given the Israeli restrictions imposed on them.”
A senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Nabil Abu Rdeineh, said Romney’s statements were unhelpful, stood in the way of a peace settlement and “contradict the previous positions held by the American administration.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a chief Romney foreign policy surrogate, appeared to differ with Romney even as he tried to defend him.
“I am sure that Gov. Romney was not talking about difference in cultures, or difference in anybody superior or inferior,” McCain said Monday in Tampa, Fla. “What I’m sure Gov. Romney was talking was that the Israeli economy has grown and prospered in a dramatic fashion. And unfortunately, the Palestinians have not had that same economic development.”
McCain continued: ”And that goes to the leadership of the Palestinians. … And we also know that the Palestinian people have not been blessed with the kind of government that has lower regulations, less taxes, entrepreneurship, which have caused the Israeli economy to be one of the world’s most successful. It has nothing to do with cultures. It has nothing to do with superiority or inferiority.”
NBC News staff, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.