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Romney In London: Not A Smashing Success So Far

Mitt Romney leaves London's 10 Downing Street after meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Charles Dharapak
Mitt Romney leaves London's 10 Downing Street after meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

The first stop — Britain — in Mitt Romney's foreign tour certainly is starting out rockier than nearly anyone expected.

First there was the kerfuffle over remarks, attributed by a British newspaper to an anonymous campaign adviser, that Romney understood the shared "Anglo-Saxon heritage" between the U.S. and Britain in a way President Obama didn't. Those comments were viewed as racist by some and were disowned by the Romney campaign.

Then the candidate himself caused a dust-up by saying he found "disconcerting" security and other glitches in the run-up to Friday's opening ceremony. It didn't help that at the same time, he appeared to express doubt about the eventual success of the games:

"You know, it's hard to know just how well it will turn out," Romney said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron skewered Romney with a comment that would have done Winston Churchill proud:

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

As in Salt Lake City, Utah, was the clear meaning, where the 2002 games Romney oversaw were held.

After a meeting with Romney at 10 Downing Street, the prime minister's residence, Romney "rowed back," as the British say, his earlier remarks. He allowed that he was now confident about the games:

"I am very delighted with the prospects of a highly successful Olympic Games. What I have seen shows imagination and forethought and a lot of organization and expect the games to be highly successful."

But that walk-back appeared to be too late, at least for London's mayor, Boris Johnson, who used Romney's earlier comment to rouse tens of thousands of Londoners who had gathered in the city for a rally in the hours before the opening ceremonies.

He told a throng:

"I hear there's a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we're ready. Are we ready? Yes we are. Our venues are ready. The stadium is ready. The aquatic center is ready ... the security is ready ... the police are ready... and our athletes are ready. Aren't they? Team GB [Great Britain] is ready. They're going to win more gold, silver, bronze medals than you'd need to bail out Greece and Spain together."

With that last line, Johnson demonstrated that Romney wasn't the only politician on British soil roiling international relations Thursday.

And as if that weren't enough, Romney breached British protocol by telling reporters publicly that he met with Sir John Sawers, the head of the British intelligence agency known as MI6. Such meetings are typically not acknowledged, according to British news outlets.

This was the start of a three-nation trip including Poland and Israel whose purpose was partly for Romney to demonstrate his foreign policy chops and stature on the world stage. It obviously wasn't getting off to the best start.

The liberal-leaning British newspaper The Guardian seemed to enjoy Romney's difficulties, keeping tabs on the British reaction to him on its Election 2012 blog. The conservative-leaning Daily Telegraph also tracked Romney's day.

Maybe there's something about the British that just causes American politicians to put a foot wrong, as they say in London.

Early in his time in the White House, President Obama gave then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown a set of 25 DVDs of classic American movies that were incorrectly formatted to work on European players.

Worse yet, at least by British standards, was the iPod loaded with American music that Obama gave Queen Elizabeth II. For that, maybe he's entitled to a pass, since it has to be really difficult to shop for the woman who has everything.

The British press also looked askance at a gift from President George W. Bush of a bomber jacket to the same rather buttoned-down, aforementioned Brown.

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Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.
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