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Political Stumbles Mark Romney's Trip Abroad


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney wrapped up a week-long foreign trip today with a speech in Warsaw. Romney hailed Poland as a symbol of economic and political freedom, and met with Polish leaders before boarding a plane for the U.S.

The trip has not entirely gone according to script. Hoping to spotlight the candidate's foreign policy credentials, the Romney campaign has come under fire for offering few new ideas, and for repeated political stumbles. From Warsaw, NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: After missteps in the U.K. and Israel, former Governor Romney may have been expecting smoother sailing in Poland.


WESTERVELT: In Gdansk Monday, Romney briefly greeted locals in the historic old town. Many had gathered at a police line, curious to see what all the extra security was about. Some in the crowd knew it was an American politician, but didn't know his name. Gdansk resident Petor Latinski(ph) thought he knew.

PETOR LATINSKI: Mick Roomy, Mick Roomy.

WESTERVELT: While he didn't get the name right, Latinski had heard of the Romney campaign's problems.

LATINSKI: (Speaking foreign language).

WESTERVELT: Yeah, I've read that with him, it's just been one gaffe after another, he said. Maybe he'll continue like that here. In the U.K., Romney inadvertently annoyed the British by questioning London's preparedness for the Olympics. And in Israel, he enraged Palestinian officials when he suggested cultural differences were key to the massive economic disparity between Israel and the Palestinian territories.

At the University of Warsaw today, Romney looked to move on. In his last speech before returning home, he praised Poland as a political, democratic and economic triumph.

MITT ROMNEY: Rather than heeding the false promise of a government-dominated economy, Poland sought to stimulate innovation, attract investment, expand trade, and live within its means. Your success today is a reminder that the principles of free enterprise can propel an economy, and transform a society.

WESTERVELT: Romney did not lay out any new foreign policy positions in his speech here, or during the trip. Romney drew criticism, even from fellow Republicans, for an earlier speech in which he called Russia "without question, our number one geopolitical foe." Today, he made little mention of Russia, except to say that once-promising reforms there had faltered.

During his entire trip, Romney did not hold any press conferences. He took three questions from the traveling American press corp in London, at the start. That's it. In Poland, at times, Romney and Polish aides tried to limit the use of audio recorders during carefully planned photo ops.

UNIDENTIFIED POLISH AIDE: OK. So the problem is that there should not be any voice here.

WESTERVELT: Excuse me?

UNIDENTIFIED POLISH AIDE: There should - this is just a photo opportunity. No voice today.


WESTERVELT: Why I can't I record?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This is his phone.

UNIDENTIFIED POLISH AIDE: I know but still, that's what we've decided on.

WESTERVELT: It hardly mattered. The only sound was of cameras clicking away.


WESTERVELT: WESTERVELT: Today, the tensions between the Romney campaign and the press seemed to boil over. Reporters who'd been traveling with Romney shouted questions to him after a wreath-laying ceremony at a World War II memorial.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Governor Romney? Can you...


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: ...tell us about some of the mishaps on your trip?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Governor Romney, do you have a statement for Palestinians?


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Governor Romney, do you...

WESTERVELT: Governor Romney ignored the questions. But his aide, Rick Gorka, was livid and told a reporter to, quote, "kiss my ass."

RICK GORKA: Show some respect here.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #5: We haven't had another chance to ask him questions for...

GORKA: Kiss my (BLEEP). This is a holy site for the Polish people. Show some respect.

WESTERVELT: Gorka then told a reporter to shove it. He later apologized to reporters for losing his temper.

Romney's campaign was hoping the trip would show their candidate looking and acting presidential - confident and smooth, as he mingled with world leaders. The photo album will have plenty of shots of him smiling with dignitaries, shaking hands and waving. But the memories will also include all those moments the campaign would rather forget.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Warsaw. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.

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