LONDON — Mitt Romney wanted to highlight U.S.-British bonds — and show off his diplomatic skills to boot — but he managed to rankle the Olympic hosts instead, from Prime Minister David Cameron on down.
The Republican presidential candidate, taking a turn on the world stage, called London's problems with Olympic Games preparation "disconcerting."
That prompted Cameron to retort Thursday that doubters would "see beyond doubt that Britain can deliver." And London Mayor Boris Johnson told tens of thousands gathered in Hyde Park: "There's a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know if we are ready. Are we ready? Yes we are!"
Amid the uproar, Romney tried to back off his critique, finally concluding, "I expect the games to be highly successful."
Romney also caused a stir with his attendance at a fundraiser with banking executives tainted by a British interest rate-fixing scandal. And he inadvertently disclosed that he held a secret meeting with the head of Britain's intelligence service.
The bobbles threatened to undermine Romney's first international tour as the man who would replace Democratic President Barack Obama.
A one-term Massachusetts governor with limited foreign policy experience, he is hoping to show voters back home that he is ready to represent the United States strongly and smoothly at a time of global economic turmoil and security troubles. He also wants to emphasize his own tenure running the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City by attending this year's opening ceremonies. And he hopes to draw subtle contrasts with Obama.
"I'm looking forward to the bust of Winston Churchill being in the Oval Office again," Romney told donors at a fundraiser. Obama's administration sent back to Britain a bust of Churchill that once sat in the Oval Office; Obama aides say it was scheduled to be returned.
All in all, though, it was a shaky start to Romney's planned weeklong trip overseas that will include Israel and Poland after England.