Romney backtracks on criticism of London Olympics
US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney backtracked Thursday on unflattering comments he made about the London Olympics as he held talks with Prime Minister David Cameron and other British officials.
A visit aimed at boosting Romney’s foreign policy credentials turned into a public relations mess after he said on Wednesday there were “disconcerting” reports about London’s preparations and a lack of Olympic spirit.
But the Republican former governor of Massachusetts struck a far more diplomatic tone after his meeting with Cameron on Thursday, amid fierce criticism in the the British press of his comments.
“I’m very delighted with the prospects of a highly successful Olympic Games,” Romney told reporters outside 10 Downing Street, Cameron’s official residence in London.
“What I’ve seen shows imagination and forethought and a lot of organisation and I expect the games to be highly successful.
“This is an indication of a community that will share in the Olympic experience, be unified and uplifted by it, and I’m delighted we’ll be able to be here.”
Cameron insisted that Britons would be behind the Games despite an economic downturn — and took an apparent swipe at Romney’s past as head of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
“We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world,” Cameron told a press conference at the Olympic Park in east London.
“Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.”
Romney, who touched down in London with his wife Ann on Wednesday, is on a three-day trip to Britain which will also take in the opening ceremony of the Olympics on Friday, before flying on to Israel and Poland.
Within hours of his arrival in London, NBC television broadcast an interview in which Romney said of the Olympics that it was “hard to know just how well it will turn out” and said there were “a few things that were disconcerting”.
“The stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials — that obviously is not something which is encouraging,” he said.
British border officials on Wednesday called off a 24-hour walkout by immigration staff scheduled for Thursday.
Romney even questioned the British Olympic spirit, adding: “Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment? That’s something which we only find out once the Games actually begin.”
The British press poured scorn on Romney’s comments.
“Mitt Romney is perhaps the only politician who could start a trip that was supposed to be a charm offensive by being utterly devoid of charm and mildly offensive,” the right-leaning Daily Telegraph said.
The Daily Mail tabloid asked “Who invited him?” and suggested that Romney should spend time “brushing up on his diplomacy skills”.
Romney also met Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, foreign minister William Hague finance minister George Osborne and former prime minister Tony Blair on Thursday.
It was also reported that he will host fundraising dinners for his supporters in London.
But there were fresh pitfalls awaiting the contrite White House hopeful, as he surprised his hosts by pubicly revealing that he had been granted a rare meeting with the head of MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence agency.
There was also speculation that Romney had forgotten the name of opposition Labour party boss Ed Miliband, referring to Miliband after they met as “Mr Leader”.
His visit was further overshadowed by a reported remark to a British newspaper by a Romney aide that President Barack Obama does not understand the “Anglo-Saxon heritage” shared by Britain and the United States.
Romney’s campaign said the British report was mistaken. But senior Obama re-election strategist David Axelrod called the comments “stunningly offensive”.© AFP 2013