London: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Thursday plunged into a series of meetings with British leaders, including Prime Minister David Cameron, as he sought to project an image of leadership during the first stop of a weeklong overseas swing that will include Israel and Poland.
Romney, a former businessman and one-term governor, is largely untested on the world's political stage.
"The world is a tumultuous and dangerous place," he said on Thursday. "And certainly in many of the regions around the world we have great interests in having a common effort in seeing greater peace and prosperity."
Meeting with British officials is typically one of the first priorities of any new US president, and establishing those relationships beforehand can help smooth any transition. Obama met with British leaders when he took a trip abroad while campaigning for president in 2008.
Romney met with former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who now serves as a special envoy to the Middle East. The Romney campaign said the two discussed the Middle East peace process, the situation in Syria, Iran and the wider region. They also discussed economic issues facing both countries.
Romney then met with Ed Miliband, the current leader of the Labour Party — the opposition to Cameron's Conservative Party. Before that session, Miliband invited two reporters from what he called "my side" to ask questions. Romney declined to take questions from US journalists.
Romney then moved on to a meeting with Foreign Secretary William Hague. The candidate was also scheduled to meet with Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, Britain's top financial official.
Romney also will spend part of his time in London raising money and highlighting a key part of his resume — the successful Salt Lake City Olympics he managed — with an appearance Friday at the opening ceremonies of the London Games.
This isn't Romney's first meeting with Cameron. The two also talked during a Romney visit to London in 2011. This year, Cameron traveled to the US, where he met Obama and attended a state dinner in Washington but did not meet with Romney.
Romney's meeting with a deputy prime minister is somewhat unusual. It's happening because Britain has a coalition government, and Clegg's Liberal Democrats govern alongside Cameron's Conservative party.
The meetings come a day after the Daily Telegraph newspaper published a story quoting an unidentified Romney campaign adviser saying the Republican believes the U.S. relationship with Britain is special because of shared "Anglo-Saxon heritage" and the White House doesn't appreciate that shared history.
Romney quickly distanced himself from any such view.
"I don't agree with whoever that adviser might be," Romney told NBC News, "but do agree that we have a very common bond between ourselves and Great Britain."
Nonetheless, Vice President Joe Biden and top Obama aides criticized Romney. "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," Biden said.
Later Thursday, Romney planned to hold a high-dollar fundraiser in London's tony Knightsbridge district. One of the hosts, former Barclays CEO Bob Diamond, withdrew from the event after he resigned in the wake of a rate-rigging scandal wracking British banks.