Romney: The US must help Syrian rebels oust Assad

Associated Press Modified: October 8, 2012 at 4:18 pm •  Published: October 8, 2012
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There also is turmoil in the wider Middle East and North Africa. Beyond Syria, Iran is believed to be pursuing a nuclear weapon, talks between Israel and the Palestinians are moribund and anti-American protests recently erupted in several countries. Last month, attackers linked to al-Qaida killed four Americans in Libya, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

The Republican nominee used his Monday speech to try to paint Democrat Obama as a weak leader who has limited America's influence on global affairs. Still, Romney highlighted the work of "patriots of both parties" and looked to cast himself as a statesman and part of a long and bipartisan tradition of American leadership in the world. He said the U.S. should use its power "wisely, with solemnity and without false pride, but also firmly and actively."

"It is clear that the risk of conflict in the region is higher now than when the president took office," Romney said.

On another international topic, Romney said he wouldn't allow Russian President Vladimir Putin any "flexibility," a jibe at Obama, who was caught on a microphone telling then-President Dmitry Medvedev last March that the U.S. would have more flexibility to work on missile defense issues after the election.

But the bulk of Romney's speech focused on the Middle East, North Africa and Afghanistan.

Romney said American gains in Iraq — won during the war pressed by President George W. Bush — have eroded, though he did not say if he would attempt to send U.S. troops back to that country.

He called for tougher sanctions on Iran than those that exist, though he did not say how he would strengthen them. He said he would condition aid to Egypt on continued support for its peace treaty with neighboring Israel. Current law includes such a condition.

Romney criticized Obama for a "politically timed retreat" from Afghanistan, but said he would maintain the same 2014 deadline the president has set for the pullout of U.S. troops and the transition to Afghan security forces.

The Republican nominee also emphasized his commitment to a two-state solution for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, a process he dismissed during a secretly videotaped fundraiser in May. He also criticized the administration for its handling of the attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

"As the administration has finally conceded, these attacks were the deliberate work of terrorists who use violence to impose their dark ideology on others," Romney said.

The Republican has given several foreign policy speeches during the campaign, including one in Reno, Nev., before a weeklong summer trip abroad during which he offended his British hosts by questioning their security preparations for the Olympic Games. At another stop, in Israel, he raised hackles among Palestinians who accused him of racism after he said culture was part of the reason Israelis were more economically successful than their Palestinian neighbors.

In the fall, Romney faced criticism for his quick and harsh reaction to news of protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and near-simultaneous attacks at the consulate in Libya. Before the administration knew of Stevens' death, Romney criticized Obama for sympathizing with the attackers. In the aftermath, top Republicans — including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the 2008 presidential nominee — urged Romney to give a speech laying out his vision for U.S. foreign policy.

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Kasie Hunt reported from Washington. AP White House Correspondent Ben Feller in Los Angeles and AP writers Karin Laub in Beirut and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.