2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney called President Obama’s secret letter to Iran’s supreme leader “an enormous error” that legitimizes the Iranian regime and weakens America’s hand.
Romney said Obama’s weak foreign policy is one of the reasons why nations like Russia and China are not worried about America’s reaction to their “bold actions.”
“Does that make us stronger in negotiations on the nuclear issue? Does it make us stronger on the world stage or does it make us diminished? He [Obama] continues to diminish himself and America in these acts of his that unfortunately lead bad people to assume America can be pushed around, and I found it very unfortunate,” Romney said at the Israeli-American Council conference in Washington on Friday evening.
In a letter to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran, Obama reportedly wrote that any cooperation on fighting the terrorist group ISIS was tied to a deal on Iran’s nuclear program.
“I was stunned that the president of the United States would write a letter of that nature and in effect legitimize a nation and a leadership, which is violating international norms and is threatening the world, and I found it astonishing,” Romney said.
“I was speechless as I heard about it and I simply can’t understand it. I think as well that the right kind of approach in dealing with Iran is to recognize Iran as we thought about South Africa during apartheid and that was we consider them a pariah. Their leaders were shunned. They were not invited to international bodies and we exerted that kind of moral suasion on that. To somehow have a communication with Iran’s supreme leader is in my view an enormous error,” Romney added.
The former Massachusetts governor said there is a “painful irony” in Obama’s letter to Iran.
“Not only do we legitimize that nation and its leadership but also that nation and its leadership is in part responsible to a degree for the elevation of ISIS, for the creation of ISIS,” he said. “The leadership of Iran in supporting Assad and arming Assad, that allows Assad to be able to push back against those early revolutionaries and that ultimately led to the rise of ISIS.”
Romney also said the anti-Sunni effort occurring in Iraq is stimulating anger in the Sunni community to a great degree.
“Then to say, ‘hey, let’s get together and fight ISIS,’ it shows a lack of appreciation and understanding of the history and of the implications of diplomacy,” Romney said.
In response to a question about a possible nuclear deal with Iran, Romney said he would be “skeptical” of any agreement.
“I’m unfortunately extraordinary cynical when it comes to agreements. I think our nation in particular, but there are other nations that fall into this same folly, believe that somehow a written agreement with a rouge nation is somehow going to honored by that rouge nation which has not followed international mores or laws in the past and has cheated time and again,” he said.
“We did this time and again with North Korea and both sides of the aisle did it. We certainly did it with Russia, our nuclear nonproliferation agreements with Russia, almost all of our agreements were violated by Russia at one time or another,” he added.
Romney said if he were president, he would not have eliminated the Iran sanctions.
“That was a mistake, it just gives Iran more time to have more economic power,” he said to applause from the audience. “You put the sanctions in place, you make them much tighter and if they walk away from the negotiating table and we got nothing for it, the sanctions have to be a lot tougher – and I think you have to make military plans as well. The question is whether it’s acceptable or not for Iran to have nuclear capability, and in my view it is not acceptable.”
Romney described Obama’s foreign policy as “very different” than the one America has been following since World War II. Under former president Harry Truman, Romney said three fundamental principles of U.S. foreign policy were defined including U.S. involvement in the world, promoting American values and strength.
“[Obama’s] weakening our military and distancing himself from our allies, which weakens us,” he said.
“To a degree it’s why you see Putin saying, ‘hey, I can go rushing into Ukraine and Crimea and I don’t have to worry about the U.S. and what they’re going to do’ and it’s why China says ‘you can’t come into the South China Sea or the East China Sea, they’re ours’ because they recognize the foreign policy of this president is not one which is based upon those fundamental principles.”
Former Connecticut Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman, who also addressed the conference, praised Romney.
“Not just in politics, but in life, I have not met a person as honorable and able as Mitt Romney,” he said, while an audience member yelled out “2016.” “I’ve got to be careful,” said Lieberman.
“I hope Mitt Romney’s days in public service or national leadership are far from over,” he added.
Lieberman said he noticed the political sensitivity shown in the menu at the dinner.
“I noticed we had fish and after the outrageous statements made by an unnamed person in the Obama administration, I’m certainly glad we didn’t have chicken,” Lieberman quipped, alluding to a report of an Obama administration official calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “chickens***.”
Lieberman said an Israeli friend told him the second part of the phrase, “chicken blank,” didn’t translate in Israel because the best swearing does not appear in Hebrew but in English or Arabic.
“So we can say chicken hara,” he said.