Former Governor Mitt Romney is on a weeklong trip to the Middle East for a series of high-level meetings, a trip that could help bolster his foreign policy credentials as he weighs a presidential run.
Romney left on Friday for Afghanistan, Israel, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates, according to senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom. He is planning to meet with President Karzai of Afghanistan, Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, and King Abdullah II of Jordan.
Among those traveling with him is Kerry Healey, who served as lieutenant governor during Romney's four-year term in Massachusetts and has had an interest on the rights of women in Afghanistan.
"The purpose of the trip is not to conduct private diplomacy but to give Governor Romney a first-hand look at what is happening in an important region of the world," Fehrnstrom said this morning.
While in Afghanistan, Romney will also train Afghans and "share with local leaders his views on issues of leadership, public service, economic opportunity and democratic participation," according to Fehrnstrom.
Romney is widely expected this spring to announce a run for the Republican presidential nomination.
Traveling with Romney on the trip are:
Ambassador Mitchell Reiss, president of Washington College in Maryland who is former State Department official under Colin Powell and traveled with Romney to China and Korea in 2006; former Senator Jim Talent, of Missouri, who was a Romney adviser during his 2008 campaign and is now a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation; Healey, who has an interest in the rights of women and justice reform in Afghanistan and was appointed by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to a committee reviewing those issues; and Dan Senor, an adviser on Romney's 2008 campaign who is currently a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Fehrnstrom said the trip is being paid for through a combination of private sources, and that no government funding is involved. Romney is also paying for part of the trip himself.
The Afghanistan portion of the trip is sponsored by the International Republican Institute, a non-profit that aims to advance democracies worldwide.
The Israel portion of the trip is sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation, which is part of the pro-Israel group American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.