U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is pictured in front of the Old City of Jerusalem as he delivers foreign policy remarks at Mishkenot Sha'ananim, July 29, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)
The White House called Monday on Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney to explain recent remarks including his apparent endorsement of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, a position that counters US policy.
Romney, in the midst of a three-nation tour, gave a speech Sunday in Jerusalem where he hailed the city as "the capital of Israel," in apparent support of a position held by the Jewish state but never accepted by the global community.
The comment was swiftly rejected by Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat as "unacceptable" and "harmful to American interests in our region."
But after Romney made fresh controversial statements Monday to donors in Jerusalem including suggesting Israeli "culture" helped explain the country's economic success -- a position Erakat denounced as "racist" -- President Barack Obama's office urged Romney to clarify his comments.
"One of the challenges of being an actor on the international stage, particularly when you're traveling to such a sensitive part of the world, is that your comments are very closely scrutinized for meaning, for nuance, for motivation," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said about the Monday remarks.
The comments have left some people "scratching their heads a little bit," Earnest told reporters at the daily White House briefing. "But I would leave it to governor Romney to further explain what he meant and what he intended when he said that."
Earnest said Romney's position on Jerusalem, the eastern half of which Palestinians claim as the capital of a promised future state, runs counter to longstanding US policy.
"It's the view of this administration that the capital is something that should be determined in final status negotiations between the parties," Earnest said.
"If Mr. Romney disagrees with that position, he's also disagreeing with the position that was taken by presidents like Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan."