* With election looming, Obama addresses global hot spots
* Tough talk on Iran designed to placate Israel; results
* Romney has seized opening to attack Obama foreign policy
By Matt Spetalnick and Mark Felsenthal
UNITED NATIONS, Sept 25 Taking a detour from the
campaign trail to the world stage, President Barack Obama sought
on Tuesday to counter attacks on his foreign policy record from
Republican rival Mitt Romney on everything from the Iranian
nuclear standoff to U.S.-Israeli relations to the Arab Spring.
At the podium of the cavernous U.N. General Assembly hall
six weeks before the U.S. election, Obama addressed both
American voters and world leaders, as he defended his approach
to global challenges that have started piling up in the final
stretch of a close presidential race.
Obama's stern warning to Iran over its nuclear program was
meant not only for the mullahs in Tehran and for Israeli Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has pressed Washington to take
a tougher tack, but also for pro-Israel voters who could help
sway the election in battleground states like Florida and Ohio.
His challenge to the fast-changing Arab world to embrace
democratic values of free speech and tolerance and reject the
kind of anti-U.S. violence that has swept the region in recent
weeks was a clear rebuttal to Republican accusations that he has
apologized for America and weakened its global standing.
"I accept that people are going to call me awful things
every day," Obama said, in a comment that could be read as
referring to both flag-burning protesters in Islamabad and
political opponents at home. "And I will defend their right to
The line drew laughter from an audience that otherwise sat
in mostly polite but stoic silence.
With Obama headed to battleground Ohio on Wednesday, and
Romney arriving there on Tuesday for a bus tour with vice
presidential running mate Paul Ryan, both presidential campaigns
are likely to return to bread-and-butter economic messages.
But foreign policy and America's world standing have become
more of a factor in the campaign during the last two weeks, as
the Muslim world has been roiled by protests over a film mocking
the Prophet Mohammed. The issues dominated the day.
Sensing an opening, Romney and Ryan have escalated their
attacks on the president's handling of world events.
And after Obama's U.N. address, the Republican camp made
clear they weren't letting up.
Eric Cantor, Republican majority leader in the House of
Representatives, said Obama's foreign policy is "rudderless."
Paula Dobriansky, a Romney foreign policy adviser, was more
"President Obama listed the Israeli-Palestinian peace
process, Syria, and Iran as major challenges facing the
international community," she said. "But those are three vital
issues on which President Obama has unfortunately made no
progress. The rhetoric doesn't match the policy."
Before returning to the campaign trail, Romney and Obama
observed a brief ceasefire in New York, with both men delivering
statesmanlike speeches to Bill Clinton's global charity.
Romney told the Clinton Global Initiative, a foundation set
up by the former Democratic president, that the United States
should do more to encourage free enterprise as a way of creating
jobs in the developing world.
The Republican largely avoided criticizing Obama in front of
an audience that included many prominent Democrats. But his
message that U.S. foreign aid frequently supplants private
enterprise reflected one of his central complaints against the
"A temporary aid package can jolt an economy. It can fund
some projects. It can pay some bills. It can employ some people
some of the time," Romney said. "But it can't sustain an economy
- not for long."
Speaking at the same venue a few hours later, Obama outlined
new steps to fight human trafficking.
Neither Romney nor Obama are likely to talk about foreign
aid or human trafficking when they return to Ohio, a politically
divided state that will be crucial in determining who wins the
Nov. 6 election.
With only six weeks until the vote, Romney is running out of
time to gain ground on the incumbent president.
Obama widened his lead in the Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking
poll to 7 percentage points over Romney, up 1 point from Monday.
Obama now leads among likely voters 49 to 42 percent.
'DO WHAT WE MUST'
At the United Nations, Obama made his case in a
statesmanlike way that struck a sharp contrast with the festive
back-and-forth of campaign rallies that have come to occupy much
of his time. But his message was still deeply infused with
Obama's annual visit followed protests over the anti-Islam
video made in California that posed a huge dilemma for a U.S.
leader who took office promising a "new beginning" with the
Muslim world. He has also had to grapple with an escalating
crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations over Iran's nuclear program and
bloodshed in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad remains in
power despite Obama's demand that he step down.
Honing in on Iran, Obama warned that United States will "do
what we must" to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon and
said time was running short for diplomacy.
That pledge fell far short of Netanyahu's demand that Obama
set a "red line" that Tehran must not cross if it is to avoid
military action, and it was unclear whether it would be enough
to placate Netanyahu.
There was no immediate reaction to Obama's comments from
Israeli leaders, with the country closed down for the holiest
Jewish day of the year, Yom Kippur.
Obama also sought to reassure U.S. voters that he is doing
everything he can to head off more violence like the recent
Sept. 11 attack in Libya that killed the U.S. ambassador and
three of his colleagues.
Americans were stunned by recent images of U.S. flags again
burning in the Muslim world, the focus of intense personal
diplomacy by the president at the start of his term.
In his speech, he faced the delicate task of articulating
U.S. distaste for insults to any religion while at the same time
insisting there is no excuse for a violent reaction - a
distinction rejected by many Muslims.
Obama defended his approach to the Arab Spring but offered no
detailed solutions to an array of crises that threaten to chip
away at a foreign policy record that his aides hoped would be
immune from Republican attack during the run-up to Election Day.
Despite Obama's international woes, administration officials
are heartened by Romney's own recent foreign policy stumbles and
doubt that the president's critics will gain traction in a
campaign that remains focused mainly on the U.S. economy.
With pressures building in the presidential race, Obama's
brief final turn on the world stage left little doubt about his
He skipped the customary one-on-one meetings with foreign
counterparts but went ahead with the taping of a campaign-style
appearance on ABC's popular television talk-show "The View."
However, after coming under Republican criticism for the
tradeoff, the White House said Obama did meet briefly with
Yemen's new president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Obama dropped in
on talks he was having with a senior U.S. aide and thanked him
for helping protect U.S. diplomats during recent unrest in the