President Obama indirectly criticized an anti-Muslim movie Wednesday that sparked violence against U.S. embassies in the Middle East, but he said there is “absolutely no justification” for the killings of four American diplomats in Libya, including Ambassador John Christopher Stevens.
“Make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people,” Mr. Obama said in the Rose Garden at the White House, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at his side. “The United States condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack.”
The protests in Libya and Egypt Tuesday appear to have been sparked by a film produced by Sam Bacile, a California real estate developer who calls himself an Israeli Jew. The film calls the prophet Muhammad a fraud; clips of the film were put on YouTube.
Mr. Obama was apparently referring to the film when he said, “Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the beliefs of others.”
But he said there was no justification for “this type of senseless violence.”
“We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done,” Mr. Obama said. “The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts. Already, many Libyans have joined us in doing so. This attack will not break the bonds between the United States and Libya.”
The flaring of anti-U.S. sentiments in countries where Mr. Obama supported “Arab spring” uprisings immediately had an impact in the presidential race. Republican nominee Mitt Romney said it was a mistake for the U.S. embassy in Cairo to issue a statement Tuesday that sympathized with the anti-U.S. protesters.
Of the assault on the U.S. embassy in Egypt, Mr. Romney said it was “disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” His first criticisms came before the White House confirmed Wednesday morning that the U.S. ambassador to Libya, John Christopher Stevens, was among those killed in the attack in Libya.
Hours before the attacks, the U.S. embassy in Cairo issued a statement condemning “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.” An administration official later said no one in Washington approved the statement and it didn’t reflect the views of the Obama administration.
Mr. Obama, who did not address Mr. Romney’s criticisms, praised Mr. Stevens as a diplomat “who worked tirelessly to support this young democracy” in Libya.
Right after his Rose Garden statement, Mr. Obama visited the State Department to personally deliver his condolences and pay tribute to Mr. Stevens.
At least a couple hundred people gathered in the State Department’s courtyard for the president’s remarks, some people watching from the windows.
Flanked by Mrs. Clinton, Deputy Secretary Tom Nides, Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, Under Secretary Pat Kennedy and Jake Sullivan, director of the Policy Planning Office, Mr. Obama, speaking without prepared remarks, thanked the foreign service for their outstanding work representing the U.S. around the world and spoke highly of Mr. Stevens and his colleagues who lost their lives Tuesday night.
Mr. Obama concluded his visit by shaking dozens of hands and talking one-on-one with people. When he turned to leave and waved goodbye, the crowd erupted in applause.
• Staff writer Susan Crabtree contributed to this story.