NEW YORK — As world leaders gathered Monday for the United Nations General Assembly amid heightened anti-U.S. tensions, President Obama raised criticism by shunning one-on-one diplomatic meetings in favor of taping "The View" with first lady Michelle Obama in his hunt for female voters.
With the Middle East erupting in anti-U.S. protests, and four Americans killed on Sept. 11 in Libya, the campaign of presidential nominee Mitt Romney and other Republicans argued that it would be a good time for Mr. Obama to meet privately with leaders such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The White House responded with some annoyance that Mr. Obama meets with foreign leaders all the time — just not Monday in New York, when most foreign heads of state were in the same city with him.
The accusations of shortchanging diplomacy overshadowed somewhat the preparations for Mr. Obama's address to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday morning. In his speech, the president is expected to explain how his gentler approach to pro-democracy movements in Muslim countries can succeed, while both international and domestic audiences await his views.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, chided Mr. Obama for appearing on "The View" rather than meeting privately with Mr. Netanyahu. He said the president should "indicate this is not the direction we want the Middle East heading" — pointing to the first Democratic election in Egypt being won by a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, civil war in Syria and the assaults on U.S. diplomatic posts overseas.
Mr. Cantor also said Mr. Obama was wrong to comment on CBS' "60 Minutes" Sunday that Israel is "one of" America's closest allies in the Middle East, arguing that Israel deserves special recognition.
"Israel continues to find itself on the receiving end of harsh language by the president," Mr. Cantor said. "I think, as Gov. Romney has said before, that there is somewhat of a continued pattern of throwing Israel under the bus when Israel stands as our closest ally."
White House press secretary Jay Carney spent a good portion of his press briefing Monday defending the president's schedule, which is empty of so-called "bilateral" meetings with other heads of state.
"It is a simple fact that when you're president of the United States, your responsibility as commander in chief never ends, and you are constantly engaged in matters of foreign affairs and national security," Mr. Carney said. "And that's what this president is doing."
But a spokesman for Mr. Romney's campaign said the president's foreign policy is in shambles.
"On the eve of his United Nations address, President Obama's foreign policy is in disarray," said Romney spokesman Ryan Williams. "Just last night, the President downgraded our relationship with Israel and compared the assassination of a U.S. ambassador to 'bumps in the road.' As anti-American protests rage in the Middle East and Iran moves closer toward nuclear weapons capability, President Obama seems more focused on winning a second term than rebuilding America's strength and position in the world."
The White House vigorously denied that Mr. Obama was referring to the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens when he made the "bumps in the road" remark, calling Republicans' accusation offensive.
Mr. Obama did speak behind closed doors Monday night to foreign leaders at a reception at the swank Waldorf-Astoria hotel. But the first thing he did upon arriving in New York City was head straight for ABC's studios on the upper West Side, home of "The View," a show with a huge female audience. He also appeared on the show in 2010.
As he held hands with his wife on the couch, the president did talk foreign policy a little bit with the show's co-hosts. He repeated his administration's latest acknowledgment that the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya was an act of terrorism.
"There's no doubt that the kind of weapons that were used, the ongoing assault, that it wasn't just a mob action," Mr. Obama said. "What's clear is that, around the world, there are still a lot of threats out there."
He said most Libyans are friendly to the United States.
"The overwhelming majority of Muslims, they want the same things that families here want," the president said. "They want opportunity, kids want an education, they want jobs, they want peace. But there are extremist strains that are there."
On the show, Mr. Obama gave a preview of what he might say to the United Nations on Tuesday about the anti-Islam film produced in the U.S., which is blamed by some for the violence.
"There's never an excuse for violence," he said. "The best way to marginalize that kind of speech is to ignore it. You don't make yourself bigger by putting other people down."
There were some tough questions for him, as when co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck asked the president about his comment that you can't change Washington from the inside.
"You are Washington, you're about as inside as it gets," she said.
Mr. Obama replied, "The idea was you can't change Washington just from the inside; you've got to mobilize the American people. When ordinary people are engaged and paying attention, that's when Congress responds. We can't play just an inside game."
Co-host Barbara Walters asked, "What would be so terrible if Mitt Romney were elected? Would it be disastrous for the country?"
"We can survive a lot," the president said. "But the American people don't want to just survive. We want to thrive. I've just got a different vision of how we grow an economy. We grow fastest when the middle class is doing well."
Near the end of the show, Mrs. Obama exclaimed, "I'm voting for him."
"What a surprise," deadpanned Ms. Walters.
• Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.
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