Republican presidential hopeful and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) is frantically trying to walk back disparaging comments he made about London’s readiness to host the Olympics, and for casting doubt on Britain’s willingness to “come together and celebrate the Olympic moment,” according to the Agence France Presse.
Mending this gaffe comes just days after Romney faced sharp criticism for a remark an anonymous foreign policy adviser made to reporter John Swaine of the Telegraph. The aide reportedly said that a Romney administration would restore “Anglo-Saxon” values to the special relationship enjoyed by the U.S. and the U.K., a statement that struck many as overtly racist.
It was in an interview in London with NBC’s Brian Williams that Romney said that he found stories he was hearing about London’t readiness for the Olympic Games “disconcerting.”
“It’s hard to know just how well it will turn out,” he said of the games and the lapses in security that have surrounded them, “There are 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 also questioned British people’s willingness to embrace the Games.
“Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment?” he asked. “That’s something which we only find out once the Games actually begin.”
The candidate has spent Thursday on damage-control, trying to minimize long-term impact to his campaign.
In a meeting with Labour Party leader Ed Miliband that Romney began to try to walk back his statements, saying that “(i)t is impossible for absolutely no mistakes to occur” in something as large and complicated as the Olympic Games.
“Of course there will be errors from time to time,” he said, “but those are all overshadowed by the extraordinary demonstrations of courage, character and determination by the athletes.”
The BBC has pointed out that Romney appeared to not know Miliband’s name, instead calling him “Mr. Leader.”
Vice President Joe Biden has criticized Romney’s remarks. “Despite his promises that politics stops at the water’s edge, Gov. Romney’s wheels hadn’t even touched down in London before his advisers were reportedly playing politics with international diplomacy,” Biden said in a statement.
“The comments reported this morning are a disturbing start to a trip designed to demonstrate Gov. Romney’s readiness to represent the United States on the world’s stage … This assertion is beneath a presidential campaign.”
Romney will leave the U.K. later this week to continue his trip in Poland and Israel.
UPDATE: British Prime Minister David Cameron has responded to Romney’s comments, saying in a press conference, “You’re going to see beyond doubt that Britain can deliver.”
Cameron hit back at Romney, saying that perhaps the Utah Winter Olympics were easier to assemble, given that they were not being staged in a metropolis like London.
“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.”
Cameron went on to say, “I think we will show the whole world not just that we come together as a United Kingdom but also we’re extremely good at welcoming people from across the world. I will obviously make those points to Mitt Romney. I look forward to meeting him.”
UPDATE 2: Romney gaffed again when he told reporters outside the residence of Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron that he had just met with the head of Britain’s top secret MI6, an organization so cloaked in mystery that it is rarely even acknowledged in public. It is highly unusual that anyone from MI6 would meet with an agent of a foreign government, particularly one who is not yet elected to the office for which he is campaigning.
The Telegraph quotes Patrick Mercer MP, a former chairman of the House of Commons’s intelligence and security sub-committee, as saying, “It is very unusual. The head of MI6’s time is extremely precious. I wonder if this does not set a strange precedent where other leaders of other oppositions will also want similar briefings.”
Guardian blogger Tom McCarthy wrote, “For our American readership, this isn’t like bragging you just met David Petraeus. The British take on the national secret intelligence service comes with an extra-heavy dollop of the whole secret thing. The very existence of the MI6 was not officially acknowledged until 1994.”
McCarthy continued, “Good luck, Romney handlers: this is only stop No. 1 on a three-stop international tour. What will he say in Jerusalem?”
Watch Romney’s Wednesday interview with Brian Williams, embedded via MSNBC, below: