Obama, in election mode, tightens his U.N. diplomacy

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The world’s leaders are gathering in New York, but President Obama has no plans to meet privately with any of them.

He will make time for “The View,” a freewheeling TV talk show more likely to reach voters than Mr. Obama would with the diplomacy he is skipping at the United Nations.

Just six weeks until the election, the realities and priorities of campaign politics hang prominently over Mr. Obama’s final turn on the world stage before facing voters.

Unlike his predecessors, he is skipping the face-to-face meetings with counterparts where much of the U.N. works gets done, leaving Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to pick up more of those sessions herself.

Mr. Obama’s itinerary on Monday and Tuesday is compressed so that he can get back to campaigning in some of the most contested states such as Ohio and Virginia.

Mr. Obama’s address to the U.N. General Assembly, while avoiding any references to Republican rival Mitt Romney, will be viewed in more of an election context by many observers. Those include the more than 130 heads of state and government who are keenly interested in who will be in the White House next year.

Mr. Obama’s two worlds will collide in his speech Tuesday. He will have a chance to distinguish his world vision from Mr. Romney’s at a time when foreign crises have intruded in an election focused primarily on the economy.

Obama campaign officials privately welcome the imagery of the president commanding the U.N. stage and making his case about a stronger U.S. position in the world. But the speech is less anticipated this year, seeming also to be squeezed into a pursuit of a second term built more on domestic concerns.

Mr. Obama is expected to explain, explore and defend U.S. engagement in the world as anti-American rage has run high in many nations, fueled by anti-Muslim film that was made in the United States but unconnected to and denounced by Mr. Obama’s administration.

More than 40 people, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, have been killed in violence linked to the protests over the film, raising hard questions about the transitions to democracy in the Middle East and North Africa.

The upheaval roiled the presidential campaign when Mr. Romney accused the Obama administration of sympathizing with those who attacked U.S. interests.

At the U.N., Mr. Obama will try to differentiate himself from Mr. Romney by projecting a less aggressive tone toward the world, while also defending America and not seeming like an apologist, said Shibley Telhami, a Middle East scholar and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“That’s a tough mix,” he said.

The president has previewed his U.N. themes in campaign events, declaring that U.S. will stick with diplomacy but demand returns for Arab partners.

“My message to the presidents of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and these other countries is, we want to be a partner with you,” Mr. Obama said. “We stand on the side of democracy, but democracy is not just an election. Are you looking out for minority rights; are you respecting freedom of speech; are you treating women fairly?”

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