Updated at 8:02 a.m. ET on July 27: LONDON -- Mitt Romney found that all politics are, in fact, local after being forced Thursday to clarify remarks about London's preparation for the Olympics, which prompted a minor uproar in the British press.
In his interview last night with NBC’s Brian Williams, Romney called several logistical issues at the 2012 Olympic games here “disconcerting” -- including a contracted security firm’s failure to provide enough personnel -- and said that a possible planned strike by customs and immigration officials was “not something which is encouraging.”
Local press seized on the comments, which generated buzz on British television today and which one newspaper columnist called “derisory." Even Prime Minister David Cameron reacted, pointing out that the London games were being held in a major metropolitan area, not in “the middle of nowhere,” a comment interpreted as a reference to the games Romney headed in Salt Lake City in 2002.
Romney backtracked somewhat in comments to reporters outside the prime minister's residence, offering effusive praise for the London games, and calling the city's preparation for the event "really quite an accomplishment."
“I don’t know of any Olympics that’s ever been able to run without any mistakes whatsoever, but they’re small, and I was encouraged, for instance to see, things that could have represented a real challenge—such as immigration and customs officers on duty, that is something which was resolved and the people are all pulling together,” Romney said in a short availability with both American and British reporters.
“I’m very delighted with the prospects of a highly successful Olympic games,” Romney responded to a follow-up question. “What I’ve seen shows imagination and forethought and a lot of organization and I expect the games to be highly successful."
The press availability capped a busy afternoon for the presumptive GOP nominee, who also met with an array of other current and former British leaders, including the deputy prime minister, foreign minister and leader of the opposition Labour Party -- along with former Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Romney also tipped his hand at having met with the director of MI6, the British intelligence agency; the meeting wasn't on Romney's official itinerary, but Romney made reference to the meeting in his remarks.
Press were allowed to record only the opening pleasantries between Romney and his hosts, but aides to the campaign told reporters that a wide range of issues were discussed in each meeting. Romney and Foreign Secretary William Hague discussed economic policy, trade, and the deteriorating situation in Syria.
Romney elaborated somewhat on his discussions about foreign affairs during his comments to reporters, saying he not only discussed Syria but several other regional hot spots, including Iran, Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“I don't want to refer to any comments made by leaders representing any other nations,” Romney said when asked to describe the conversations in more detail. “Nor do I want to describe foreign policy position which I might have while I’m on foreign soil. I think discussions of foreign policy should be made by the president, and the current administration, not by those who are seeking office.”
Romney’s first full day in London comes as the candidate begins a three-nation foreign trip set to also include stops in Israel and Poland, and which mixes private meetings, public appearances and fundraisers with Americans abroad.
Later this evening, Romney will hold one such high-dollar fundraiser at a luxury London hotel, with a minimum ticket price of $25,000 per person. In keeping with US election law, only American citizens will be allowed to donate and attend the fundraiser, and an invitation to the event examined by NBC News says passports will be checked at the door to ensure citizenship.
Afterwards, Romney is expected to attend a reception honoring American athletes at the USA House in the Olympic village. Romney’s experience in running the 2002 Salt Lake City games was a regular topic in his meetings here today, as were his plans for taking in some of the London games.
Romney told Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg he planned to attend a swimming event later this week because “Americans typically do well in swimming.”