President Barack Obama condemned “in the strongest terms” an attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya that left the ambassador and three other American embassy staff dead. He ordered tighter security at diplomatic posts across the world.
Obama vowed the U.S. will work with the Libyan government to track down those who carried out the attack, which came on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and amid a presidential campaign.
“No act of terror will ever shake this great nation,” Obama said today in the White House Rose Garden with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at his side. “Justice will be done.”
Violent protests erupted in Libya and Egypt over a film made by an Israeli living in California about the Prophet Muhammad seen as blasphemous by Muslims. The consulate in Benghazi came under rocket attack.
The attacks presented both a foreign policy and domestic political challenge for Obama.
His opponent in the presidential campaign, Republican Mitt Romney, criticized the administration for a statement put out by the U.S. embassy in Cairo that condemned “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims -- as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.” According to the statement, “Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy.”
Romney said the administration is sending “mixed messages.”
It is a “terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values,” Romney told reporters today in Jacksonville, Florida. “The statement that came from the administration was a statement that was akin to apology.”
His remarks echoed a statement put out by his campaign that was released before news of the death of the U.S. personnel in Libya.
The Obama campaign accused Romney of politicizing the situation.
“We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack,” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said in an e-mail.
Other Democrats rebuked Romney as well.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry of Massachusetts called Romney’s statements about attacks on U.S. diplomats “about as inappropriate as anything I have ever seen at this kind of moment.” Romney’s comments show “an insensitivity and lack of judgment about what is happening,” he told reporters.
In his remarks, Obama said the U.S. rejects “all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification for this type of senseless violence. None.”
Obama paid tribute to U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and the others killed in “this terrible act.”
“These four Americans stood up for freedom and human dignity,” he said, adding that Stevens died in “a city he help save” during the revolt against Muammar Qaddafi.
Obama and Clinton went to the State Department afterward to meet with foreign service personnel for about 30 minutes. He’s scheduled to resume campaigning this evening with events in Nevada and Colorado.
The incidents in Egypt and Libya also come as Obama is at odds with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program.
Netanyahu declared yesterday that the Obama administration has no “moral right” to keep Israel from attacking as long as the U.S. doesn’t set its own “red lines” for Iran. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz and other news organizations reported that Obama didn’t have time to meet with Netanyahu later this month when the prime minister is in New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly session.
Obama and Netanyhu spoke for an hour by telephone yesterday during which they “reaffirmed that they are united in their determination to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” according to a White House statement.
The statement also said Israel never made a request to meet with Obama “nor was a request for a meeting ever denied.”