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Romney slams Obama's Middle East policy

Mitt Romney has used a major speech on US foreign policy to accuse President Obama of failing to lead on Syria. The Republican argued that both the US and Middle East had become less safe since Obama took office.

In his speech at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, deviated from discussion about the state of the US economy to present his national security positions ahead of an October 16 TV debate with President Barack Obama on foreign policy.

The former Massachusetts governor attempted to reframe his image on international affairs following the criticism he has drawn in recent months for politicizing the killing of US ambassador to Libya Chris Stephens and a gaffe-filled trip to Britain, Israel and Poland.

'Failed to lead'

The core of Romney's speech focused on criticism of Obama's policy toward the Middle East while offering his own alternatives. He criticized the president for "sitting on the sidelines" with Syria, saying that his position is indicative of a president that "leads from behind" rather than asserting American influence.

"The president has failed to lead in Syria, where more than 30,000 men, women and children have been massacred by the Assad regime over the past 20 months," said Romney, adding that rebels did not have the weaponry needed to combat President Bashar Assad's forces.

Romney went on to criticize Obama's handling of the Middle East as a whole, saying that "with Iran closer than ever to nuclear weapons capability, with the conflict in Syria threatening to destabilize the region, and with violent extremists on the march, and with an American ambassador and three others dead [in Libya] likely at the hands of al Qaeda affiliates - it is clear that the risk of conflict in the region is higher now than when the president took office."

Romney said that if elected, he would increase the US military presence in the Gulf and Mediterranean region, arm Syrian opposition rebels and impose a new round of sanctions aimed at pressurizing Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions.

"I know the president hopes for a safer, freer, and a more prosperous Middle East allied with the United States," said Romney. "I share this hope. But hope is not a strategy."

Romney with momentum

Arizona Senator John McCain, the republican presidential nominee in 2008, called Romney's speech "a blueprint for restoring America's strength in the world."

The address comes less than a week after the first presidential debate, where Romney was seen as the clear winner against an ineffective Obama, who subsequently lost a five-point lead in the polls.

According Gallup's to a seven-day, rolling average poll released on Saturday, the president still maintains a three-point lead at 49 percent to Romney's 46 percent with just over four weeks to go until the November 6 election.

dr/pfd (Reuters, dpa, AFP)