Thursday 14 December 2017

Romney forced to backtrack after Olympic jibe backlash

Steve Holland in London

US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's high-profile overseas trip got off to a rocky start yesterday when he was forced to clarify a comment seen as criticising London's handling of the Olympics.

He ruffled British feathers ahead of his visit by appearing to suggest in a US television interview that London was not ready for the Games, whose opening ceremony is held today.

"It's hard to know just how well it will turn out. There are a few things that were disconcerting," Mr Romney told NBC when asked to analyse London's handling of the Olympics.

He cited what he said was the threat of a strike by immigration and customs officials. "That obviously is not something which is encouraging."

Prime Minister David Cameron defended the UK's handling of the games, after he was forced to deploy extra troops to bolster security to cover a shortfall left by a private contractor.

"We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course, it is easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere," Mr Cameron said.

The comments could be uncomfortable reading for Mr Romney, who has made much of his record as the man who saved the failing Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002.

"We talked about the great progress that has been made in organising the Games," Mr Romney said after meeting Mr Cameron yesterday.

"My experience as the Olympic organiser is that there are always a few very small things that end up not going quite right, those get ironed out, and then when the Games themselves begin, the athletes take over," he said.

The Olympics comments marked an inauspicious start to a week-long overseas trip, designed to establish his foreign policy credentials.

London Mayor Boris Johnson added to Mr Romney's discomfort when addressing a cheering crowd in Hyde Park, an Olympics venue in London.

Disavow

"I hear there's a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we're ready. He wants to know whether we're ready. Are we ready? Are we ready? Yes, we are," he roared.

Mr Romney had already been forced to disavow comments by an adviser who told the press that Mr Romney better understood the "Anglo-Saxon heritage" between the two countries than Barack Obama.

Mr Romney also took the unusual step of saying that he had met the head of MI6, Britain's foreign intelligence agency, when asked about his discussions with British officials about Syria. Such conversations are not normally discussed publicly.

Irish Independent

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