NEW YORK — Republican Mitt Romney praised President Barack Obama on Tuesday for taking out Osama bin Laden and said he would have done the same, but that it was "inappropriate" for the US leader to politicize the mission.
Romney, his party's presumptive nominee in the presidential race, made his comments as he visited a fire house in Manhattan that lost 11 first responders to the 9/11 attacks of 2001.
But as he sought a bit of exposure by breaking bread with firefighters on the anniversary of the Al-Qaeda founder's demise, Romney was upstaged minutes later by Obama, who made a surprise visit to Afghanistan where he was whisked to a meeting with President Hamid Karzai.
Romney said he believed it was "totally appropriate" for Obama to remind Americans of his role in ordering the daring raid into Pakistan that killed bin Laden exactly one year ago.
But "I think politicizing it and trying to draw a distinction between himself and myself was an inappropriate use of the very important event that brought America together," Romney said.
The ghost of bin Laden has needled its way into the White House campaign in recent days, with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden unleashing a fierce election-year row by questioning whether Romney would have taken the risky decision to neutralize the terror mastermind.
"Of course I would have ordered taking out Osama bin Laden," Romney told reporters outside the downtown firehouse, where he met with former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and had a private lunch with firefighters.
"This is a person who had done terrible harm to America and represented a continuing threat to a civilized people throughout the world, and had I been president of the United States I would have made the same decision the president made," he added.
Romney sought to deflect charges leveled by Biden and the White House that back in 2008, the Republican was uninterested in focusing additional resources on the hunt for bin Laden and criticized then-candidate Obama in August 2007 for saying he would send a mission into Pakistan to find him if need be.
"It was naive of the president to announce he would go into Pakistan," Romney said, adding his position was that while "we always reserve the right to go anywhere to get Osama bin Laden," it was not appropriate to telegraph any potential move.
"It was a very, if you will, fragile and flammable time in Pakistan and I thought it was a mistake of him as a candidate... to announce that he would go in," Romney said.
Giuliani, a former Romney rival who last month endorsed the all-but-certain Republican nominee, said he had "no problem" with Obama claiming credit for the extraordinary raid last year.
"I wish he wouldn't use it as a source of negative campaigning. I think that's a mistake."
The Romney campaign has hit out forcefully at the White House, which unveiled a recent ad questioning Romney's foreign policy readiness, calling it a "cheap political ploy" to distort the Republican's record.
"While the Obama administration has naively stated that 'the war on terror is over,' governor Romney has always understood we need a comprehensive plan to deal with the myriad threats America faces," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said on Monday.