The Republican presidential ticket sharpened and broadened its attacks on President Barack Obama's foreign policy record Friday, with Mitt Romney blasting Obama for declining to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Romney's running mate accusing the president of failing to lead in a time of global crisis.
"American foreign policy needs moral clarity and firmness of purpose," GOP vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan said in remarks prepared for delivery Friday at the conservative Values Voter Summit in Washington.
Romney has struggled to make the case against the sitting commander in chief as angry anti-American protests in the Arab world turned violent this week. After an initial statement mischaracterized the tumultuous events, Romney has taken a mournful tone about the loss of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya and instead is making a broader argument that Obama has a pattern of sending the wrong message to the world.
His running mate was even more pointed in speech excerpts released by the campaign.
"Look across that region today, and what do we see?" Ryan asked. "The slaughter of brave dissidents in Syria. Mobs storming American embassies and consulates. Iran four years closer to gaining a nuclear weapon. Israel, our best ally in the region, treated with indifference bordering on contempt by the Obama administration."
Romney, appearing at a $4 million breakfast fundraiser at a New York hotel, called the lack of a meeting with Netanyahu "an extraordinary confusing and troubling decision."
"This is our closest ally and best friend in the Middle East," Romney said. "It stands between a nuclear Iran in some respects and a region that would have more stability without a nuclear Iran. And yet when the prime minister of Israel says, 'I'm going to be in New York. Can we meet?' And the president says, 'No, I'm too busy,' I can't imagine that circumstance. I don't know what the president is trying to send to the world in terms of a message but it does send a message."
The White House has denied that Netanyahu requested time with Obama during meetings of the United Nations General Assembly later this month. The White House has cited scheduling conflicts; Obama spoke with Netanyahu by phone for an hour earlier this week.
While Netanyahu and Obama have a chilly relationship, the Israeli prime minister welcomed Romney with open arms when the Republican visited Israel in July. The visit had all the trappings of a tour by a sitting head of state, with a joint news conference, policy briefings and meetings between aides to the top Israeli leader and the Romney supporters and donors who also came to Jerusalem during Romney's trip.
Romney's comments at the fundraiser, where 900 donors spent from $2,500-$25,000 for tickets, were his first on the matter. Notable attendees included Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets.
Obama is spending a weekend off the campaign trail, sticking to the White House as the anti-American protests continued across the globe and the Republican ticked tried to stem the president's recent momentum in the race.
Obama had planned to spend Saturday and Sunday in Washington even before the demonstrations against an anti-Muslim film erupted in the Middle East earlier in the week and spread beyond the region Friday to Muslims in India and Indonesia.
But the developments were certainly at the top of the daily classified security briefing he was receiving Friday morning in the Oval Office with Vice President Joe Biden. The president later honored the 2012 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams on the South Lawn before attending a campaign fundraiser at a Washington donor's home Friday evening.
There were no plans to pull back on his extensive campaign travel next week, which includes rallies in Ohio on Monday, a fundraiser in New York on Tuesday, and a two-city Florida swing on Thursday. A high-ranking national security aide travels with Obama on all of his campaign trips to keep him posted on developments around the world.
Following a quick trip to New York where Romney's campaign says he raised $7.5 million at three fundraisers, the candidate was headed Friday to Ohio, which has been essential to any Republican seeking the White House. Obama carried the perennial battleground state in 2008, but it remains in the toss-up category and could again play a pivotal role in the Nov. 6 election.
Republicans also awaited an Obama administration report, expected to be released Friday, on how it would implement $110 billion in across-the-board cuts in defense and domestic spending due to take effect Jan. 2. The threatened cuts would kick in if Congress and the White House, by year's end, fail to reach a deal to cut the budget deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next decade.