Obama has no meetings scheduled with foreign leaders at U.N. General Assembly
(CBS News) The White House on Monday gave no clear explanation for why President Obama has no bilateral meetings scheduled with the world leaders who are in New York City this week for the United Nations General Assembly. His lack of meetings stands in contrast to last year's General Assembly, when the president held more than a dozen bilateral meetings.
When asked repeatedly about the lack of meetings, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Monday he was "not going to preview every minute by minute" of the president's schedule. He noted that the president regularly engages directly with world leaders.
"The president just in recent weeks has had intensive consultations with leaders in the region, with the leaders of Turkey, of Egypt, of Israel, of Yemen, of Libya, of Afghanistan, and that process will continue," Carney said. "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. And that's what this president is doing."
At last year's U.N. General Assembly gathering, CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller reports, Mr. Obama had at least 13 bilateral meetings. He met with the leaders of Libya, the U.N. Libya Contact Group, Afghanistan, Brazil, Turkey, Israel, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, South Sudan, and the Palestinian Authority. He also met with the U.N. General Assembly president Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser and the U.N. General Assembly Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Republicans have charged that the president is too busy campaigning and that he won't have time to meet bilaterally with world leaders because he's taping an episode of "The View" in New York on Monday afternoon. Earlier this month, conservatives similarly complained that during the Middle East crisis, Mr. Obama gave too much of his time to interviews with entertainment-based media.
While he isn't scheduled to have any bilateral meetings with U.N. members, Mr. Obama will deliver a speech before the General Assembly on Tuesday, which Carney said he will use to lay out "what the United States stands for" and his response to the recent unrest in the Muslim world.
Mr. Obama, Carney said, plans to make clear that while the anti-Islam video that spurred the Middle East turmoil does not represent the views of the United States government or the American people, violence is not an acceptable response.
"He will also send a clear message that the United States will never retreat from the world," Carney said. "The United States will bring justice to those who harm Americans and the United States will stand strongly for our democratic values abroad."Carney also defended Mr. Obama's remarks in an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes" that aired on Sunday in which the president told Steve Kroft that he still supports the political upheaval and movement toward democracy in the Middle East, even after the recent violence that left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens.
"I think it was absolutely the right thing for us to do to align ourselves with democracy, universal rights, a notion that people have to be able to participate in their own governance," Mr. Obama said. "But I was pretty certain and continue to be pretty certain that there are going to be bumps in the road because, you know, in a lot of these places, the one organizing principle has been Islam. The one part of society that hasn't been controlled completely by the government. There are strains of extremism, and anti-Americanism, and anti-Western sentiment. And, you know, can be tapped into by demagogues."
Republicans were quick to decry the president's remarks. In a note to reporters Monday morning, the Romney campaign wrote, "What is President Obama describing as 'bumps in the road,' an attack that killed our ambassador, growing unrest abroad and a Middle East in turmoil?"
Ari Fleischer, former White House Press Secretary under George W. Bush, said on Twitter, "I guess when u win a Nobel Peace Prize for doing nothing, an attack that kills an Ambassador is just a 'bump in the road.'" Conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin called the president's remarks "preposterous and grossly insensitive."
Carney today called it "desperate and offensive" to suggest that the president was minimizing the death of Stevens or the other three Americans killed.
"The president was referring to the transformations in the region to this process that has only began less than two years ago, as we saw in Tunisia, and continues to this day with remarkable transformations occurring in countries around the region," he said. "And obviously in these countries there are huge challenges, huge obstacles to the kinds of change that the people in these countries are demanding, to the kinds of governments that are democratic in nature and responsive to the interests of average citizens in these countries."
Carney said that the criticism from Republicans amounted to a "rather desperate attempt to grasp at words and phrases here to find political advantage. And in this case that's profoundly offensive."