(CBS News) In a speech focused on the volatility in the Middle East, Mitt Romney said the answer to political and social unrest is employment.
"Work. That must be at the heart of our effort to help people build economies that can create jobs for people, young and old alike," Romney said Tuesday at the Clinton Global Initiative conference in New York City. "Work builds self-esteem. It transforms minds from fantasy and fanaticism to reality and grounding. Work does not long tolerate corruption nor quietly endure the brazen theft by government of the product of hard-working men and women."
In his first major address since an American-made anti-Muslim film led to protests throughout the Middle East, Asia and Northern Africa, and violent extremists attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens, Romney said he is "troubled by the developments in the Middle East."
"Obviously religious extremism is certainly part of the problem. But that's not the whole story," Romney said, "Idle, humiliated by poverty, and crushed by government corruption, their frustration and anger grows," Romney said of the large percentage of young people in Middle Eastern countries.
He said American-provided foreign aid "must play a role," but it shouldn't be open-ended. Romney said aid conditioned on "the promotion of work and fostering of free enterprise" will be a "higher priority" in a Romney administration.
The Republican presidential candidate said he would provide "Prosperity Pacts," that create partnerships with the private sector to identify challenges confronting trade and entrepreneurship.
"In exchange for removing those barriers and opening their markets to U.S. investment and trade, developing nations will receive U.S. assistance packages focused on developing the institutions of liberty, the rule of law, and property rights," he said.
Romney did not directly criticize President Obama like he did immediately after the eruption of protests, but he effectively touched on four critical developments that have led critics to question Mr. Obama's foreign policy.
"Syria has witnessed the killing of tens of thousands of people. The president of Egypt is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Our Ambassador to Libya was assassinated in a terrorist attack. And Iran is moving toward nuclear weapons capability," he said. "We somehow feel that we are at the mercy of events, rather than shaping events."
Using a common refrain heard on the campaign trail when he mentions international affairs, Romney said he "will never apologize for America. I believe that America has been one of the greatest forces for good the world has ever known."
In a lighter moment at the beginning of his remarks, Romney cracked a joke following former President Bill Clinton introduction of him: "If there's one thing we've learned this election season, it's that a few words from Bill Clinton can do any man a lot of good. All I gotta to do is wait a couple of days for that bounce to happen."