By STEVE PEOPLES, Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Australia's foreign minister says he wasn't criticizing America when he spoke of a nation "in decline" during a private conversation with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr and other Australian officials said Monday that Carr was praising American economic strengths during Sunday's meeting. The meeting was kept secret until Romney shared Carr's comments with donors later in the day.
"He said America is just one budget deal away from ending all talk of America being in decline," Romney said, while addressing roughly 250 donors at San Francisco's Fairmont hotel. "I said, 'Can I quote you on that?' and he said, 'Yes.'"
Seizing on the remark to criticize a lack of leadership in Washington, Romney added that Carr "led the talk of America being in decline."
"See that's not talk we hear about here as much as they're hearing there. And if they're thinking about investing in America, entrepreneurs putting their future in America, if they think America's in decline, they're not gonna do it," Romney said.
Australian officials released a statement Monday clarifying Carr's comments, which were made during the first meeting between a senior Australian official and Romney since he became the GOP's presumptive presidential nominee.
"The foreign minister's remarks represent a considered assessment of the U.S. economy and an antidote to talk of U.S. declinism," said Kim Beazley, Australia's ambassador to the United States.
He said Carr has identified increasing U.S. energy competitiveness and continued inventiveness coming from Silicon Valley "as a sound base for the next progression in the U.S. economy."
The issue comes as Romney works to polish his international credentials. The former Massachusetts governor leaves later this week on an international tour that includes stops in England, Israel and Poland.
Romney's campaign declined to further characterize the meeting with Carr, which they said came at Carr's request.
Carr's office said he briefed Romney on Australia's role in Afghanistan, in addition to Australia's plans for Afghan education, support for women, rural employment and government capability.
The pair also "exchanged views on the Australian-American alliance, with Gov. Romney indicating that Australia had no firmer friend than the United States," according to Carr's office.