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CBS "Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer" - Transcript

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Well, after a visit to London that got him a lot of unwanted publicity in the British tabloids, Mitt Romney is in Jerusalem this morning, conferring with top Israeli officials and reaffirming the bond between United States and Israel. But when a top Romney foreign policy adviser Dan Senor told reporters there this morning, "If Israel has to take action on its own to prevent Iran from being able to make the materials that could be used in a bomb, we would respect that decision." Well, that has set off new questions. Has Romney given Israel the go-ahead to bomb Iran? Our Jan Crawford just talked to Governor Romney this morning. Here's her interview.

JAN CRAWFORD: Well, Governor, one of your aides said this morning that you would respect Israel's decision to take military action against Iran on its own. Does that mean you're giving the green light to Israel to bomb Iran?

MITT ROMNEY: Let me-- I'll use my own words, and-- and that is I respect the right of Israel to defend itself, and-- and we stand with-- with Israel. We're a-- a nation-- two nations that come together in-- in peace and that want to see Iran being dissuaded from its nuclear folly, so let me use my own words in that regard.

JAN CRAWFORD: But what does that mean to you, then, that you respect their decision? I mean can you explain that a little more?

MITT ROMNEY: Well, I think-- because I'm on foreign soil, I don't want to be creating new foreign policy for-- for my country or in any way to distance myself in the foreign policy of-- of our nation, but we respect the right of a nation to defend itself.

JAN CRAWFORD: But would you or would you not then support Israel's bombing of Iran?

MITT ROMNEY: Well, again, that would be a-- a statement which would be a-- of a different nature than what our nation has already expressed with regards to Iran. What we have said and-- and-- and with which I concur is that we should use every diplomatic and political vehicle that's available to us to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear capability state. Those actions should be executed with-- with the-- the greatest speed that we can-- that we can muster. If all those options fail and they've not all been executed, they've not all failed entirely at this stage, if all those option fail-- options fail, then we do have other options and we don't take those other options off the table. But that's as far as I'm-- I'm willing to go in-- in terms of discussing this matter while on foreign soil.

JAN CRAWFORD: Well, do you think the time for those diplomatic solutions is-- is running out or drawing to a close?

MITT ROMNEY: Well, there's no question, but when I spoke-- spoke at the Herzliya Conference five years ago and laid out the seven steps that I thought were necessary to dissuade Iran from their nuclear folly, that-- since that time not all of those steps have been put in place. And-- and we're five years closer. We're five years closer to a nuclear Iran. They have not--

JAN CRAWFORD (overlapping): Why is that?

MITT ROMNEY: --they have not-- they have not slowed their-- their process, all indications are they continue to-- to amass enriched material that ultimately would allow them to-- to have a-- a nuclear bomb, that is-- that is something which is dangerous to the world. It's a national security threat to America. And it-- it threatens the very existence of Israel.

JAN CRAWFORD: So you think that-- I mean, it's-- so, Iran is a much more dangerous threat now than it was four or five years ago? Why is that?

MITT ROMNEY: Well, Iran has-- has put in more centrifuges. It has now been able to enrich more uranium. It has more, therefore, capacity to build at-- at some point a-- a nuclear weapon. It's not there at this stage. They have further enrichment required, but they've had five years of enriching, and five years of construction--

JAN CRAWFORD (overlapping): And is that a--

MITT ROMNEY: --and five-- and five years with which to work on if they-- if they choose and if they have chosen, either missile capacity or bomb-making capacity, in addition to the enriched material. So, they're five years closer than they were when I spoke at Herzliya five years ago.

JAN CRAWFORD: And do you think that reflects a failure of the world's leaders who address some of these problems?

MITT ROMNEY: I-- I-- I would have hoped that the-- the posture I described in Herzliya five years ago would have been more fully implemented over the-- the previous five years and-- and think that-- had that been the case, we would-- we would not be as-- as close to nuclearization as we are today.

JAN CRAWFORD: Let me ask you some-- some things about what you have said in the past. Back in December, you said, before you were making any statements about policy as regards to Israel that you would call up your friend, the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Is that the position that you would take on, say, Israel's policy in regards to Iran now?

MITT ROMNEY: Well, we always speak-- we-- we always speak with our friends around the world. I'm-- I'm sure our current President, likewise, would-- would certainly want to communicate and-- and have a discussion with-- with our friends and allies around the world, and-- and particularly those that are in the region which would be most affected by-- by steps that-- that we might take. But-- but Israel and America and many other nations are allies, and even some that are geopolitical adversaries concur with us that-- that Iran must not become a nuclear nation.

JAN CRAWFORD: I'm trying to understand how your policies would be different from the current policies in the White House and it seems that perhaps you would be willing to listen more to the prime minister. As you said you would pick up the phone and call him first. Is it a difference in tone?

MITT ROMNEY: Well, the challenge is, you know, we have a long-standing tradition in this country to follow the advice of Senator Vandenberg, which is that politics ends at the water's edge. And so while I'm on foreign soil, I-- I just don't feel that I should be speaking about differences with regards to myself and President Obama on foreign policy, either foreign policy of the past, or for-- foreign policy prescriptions. Are there differences between us? Of course. But-- but being on foreign soil, particularly being here in Israel, this isn't the right time for me to-- to tell-- to draft those out. But, again, I've spoken in the past at the Herzliya Conference. I've described my own views, and I think those continue to be the-- the views that people could consider.

JAN CRAWFORD: Some of those views have sounded pretty hawkish, the way you've been talking in terms of-- of Israel and your approach in the Middle East. But I wanted so I just got a copy of the Newsweek cover that's going to be hitting the newsstands tomorrow that calls you a wimp. Have you seen this?

MITT ROMNEY: No. They tried--

JAN CRAWFORD: Does that concern you? Is that fair?

MITT ROMNEY: They tried that in George Herbert Walker Bush. He was a pretty-- pretty great President and anything but.

JAN CRAWFORD: But it-- it did hurt him to some extent, that-- that narrative did. Are you worried about what the media is saying here in this-- this kind of storyline that gets out there, and how do you counter that?

MITT ROMNEY: If I-- if I worried about what the media said I-- I wouldn't get much sleep and I'm able to sleep pretty well.

JAN CRAWFORD: Has anyone ever called you a wimp before?

MITT ROMNEY: I don't recall that. No.

JAN CRAWFORD: No. Well, that-- also in that same issue, there is an interview with Senator McCain and he says of you, "He has not got a lot of instincts on some of these national security issues, but he has the right instincts." Does that sound like faint praise to you?

MITT ROMNEY: You'd have to ask him. I-- I-- I respect Senator McCain a great deal and believe he has many-- many good ideas and suggestions that I would certainly want to avail myself of if I were in a setting that-- that required the input of other leaders. Senator McCain would be one of those that I'd want to hear from.

JAN CRAWFORD: But, you know, you've kind of grounded your campaign on your economic experience and ability to turn things around with the economy and in the private sector. Would you say that foreign policy is the area where you're weakest?

MITT ROMNEY: I would say that foreign policy is a place where intelligence, resolve, clarity, and confidence in cause, is of extraordinary importance. Ronald Reagan was one of our great foreign policy Presidents. He did not come from the Senate. He did not come from the foreign policy world. He was a governor, but his resolve, his clarity of purpose, his intelligence, his capacity to deal with complex issues and solve tough problems served him extremely well, and if I were elected President, I hope I could rely upon those same qualities.

JAN CRAWFORD: So it sounds like you're saying sometimes when a President steps into office he's dealing with a host of issues on the world stage and-- and perhaps it comes down to character because you can't anticipate what you're going to be dealing with. How would you describe the characteristics that you would bring as President to dealing with foreign policy?

MITT ROMNEY: I believe that as people will look at me, they'll see a person who has dealt with a number of very difficult and challenging circumstances and that I have been able to successfully navigate through those and create greater strength and greater opportunity. I believe that people recognize that I'm someone who has confidence in America's cause. That I am clear-- clear in the purpose that America represents. And that I would exercise might, if it were necessary, with resolve and I believe that that's the kind of posture which Ronald Reagan represented. I hope I would as well. I can tell you that Ronald Reagan was able to accomplish extraordinary purposes for our country without having to-- to put our military forces into-- into conflict. Only in one circumstance, which was in Grenada, did our forces go in a conflict setting. We were in a peacekeeping setting in Lebanon. Having strength, having a strong military, is-- is the ally of peace. Exercising that strength through-- through military action is not always necessary if you have the confidence and clarity of vision and purpose which America demands.

JAN CRAWFORD: Are you troubled by some of the growing isolationists' sentiments that we're seeing in the Republican Party.

MITT ROMNEY: I don't know that-- that I see more in our party than I do across the country. There are-- there are some who would prefer to see America play a less prominent role in the world. I believe the world benefits from American leadership. I believe this next century should be an American century. I believe as well that-- that American strength is-- is essential economic strength, family and value strength, military strength is essential for our own good that these things not only help secure peace for other people but preserve peace for us and-- and promise greater prosperity for America.

JAN CRAWFORD: So what would the Romney doctrine be then when you're trying to decide whether to intervene abroad?

MITT ROMNEY: Well, my doctrine is as I've described, which is confidence in our cause, clarity in our purpose, and resolve in our might.

JAN CRAWFORD: And then last question, do you think America is less secure today than it was in the Cold War or after 9/11?

MITT ROMNEY: Well, there are certain places where we are more safe. There are other places where we are less secure. Certainly Iran is five years closer to a nuclear weapon, than it was when I spoke here at Herzliya five years ago. And Iran's nuclearization is the greatest single national security threat America faces. That's of great concern to me. I hope it is to the people of our nation and to people around the world. A nuclear Iran is a-- a dramatic and-- and devastating potential threat to the world and to America. And-- and all our efforts should be focused on making that our first priority or keeping them from having that nuclear capacity our first priority.

JAN CRAWFORD: All right. Governor, thank you very much.

MITT ROMNEY: Thanks, Jan.

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