LONDON — US presidential candidate Mitt Romney backtracked Thursday on unflattering comments about the London Olympics after a visit to Britain aimed at boosting his foreign policy credentials fell flat.
Romney drew a response from Prime Minister David Cameron and London's mayor Boris Johnson after saying there were "disconcerting" reports about London's preparations and questioning Britons' enthusiasm for the Games.
Before holding talks with the Republican candidate in London, Cameron insisted that Britons would be behind the Games -- and took an apparent swipe at Romney's role as head of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
"We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world," Cameron told a press conference at the Olympic Park in east London.
"Of course it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere."
Romney's comments also attracted a response from London Mayor Boris Johnson, who asked a crowd of 60,000 gathered for a pre-Olympics concert in Hyde Park: "I hear there's a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we're ready. Are we ready?"
The crowd roared "yes".
Within hours of his arrival in London Wednesday, NBC broadcast an interview in which Romney said of the Olympics that it was "hard to know just how well it will turn out" and that there were "a few things that were disconcerting".
"The stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials -- that obviously is not something which is encouraging," he said.
Britain has been forced to draft in 4,700 extra troops to make up a shortfall in the number of private guards supplied by a private security giant G4S.
And border officials on Wednesday called off a 24-hour walkout by immigration staff scheduled 24 hours later.
Romney even questioned the British Olympic spirit, adding: "Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment? That's something which we only find out once the Games actually begin."
The British press poured scorn on his words.
"Mitt Romney is perhaps the only politician who could start a trip that was supposed to be a charm offensive by being utterly devoid of charm and mildly offensive," the right-leaning Daily Telegraph said.
The Daily Mail tabloid asked "Who invited him?" and suggested he should spend time "brushing up on his diplomacy skills".
But the Republican former governor of Massachusetts struck a far more diplomatic tone after meeting Cameron.
"I'm very delighted with the prospects of a highly successful Olympic Games," Romney told reporters outside 10 Downing Street, Cameron's official residence.
"What I've seen shows imagination and forethought and a lot of organisation and I expect the Games to be highly successful.
"This is an indication of a community that will share in the Olympic experience, be unified and uplifted by it, and I'm delighted we'll be able to be here."
Romney is on a three-day trip to Britain which will also take in the opening ceremony of the Olympics on Friday, before flying on to Israel and Poland.
Romney also met former British prime minister Tony Blair and foreign minister William Hague and finance minister George Osborne on Thursday.
It was also reported he will host fundraising dinners for Republican supporters in London.
But there were fresh pitfalls awaiting the contrite White House hopeful, as he surprised his hosts by revealing that he had been granted a rare meeting with the head of MI6, Britain's foreign intelligence agency.
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