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Foreign policy on back burner for Obama

President Barack Obama waves as he arrives at General Mitchell International Airport on Air Force One, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama will take only one day out of his re-election campaign to attend the U.N. General Assembly this week, with his flying visit not involving the usual flurry of visits with world leaders. Obama will hope to win a few domestic political points by cutting a statesman like figure in his annual speech to the United Nations, and will offer his most detailed explanation yet of the U.S. response to the rash of anti-American protests in the Arab world.

While in New York, he will also repay former President Bill Clinton for his speech that lauded the Obama presidency at the Democratic National Convention, by appearing at the annual Clinton Global Initiative meetings.

While his schedule does not allow time to meet the likes of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Myanmar leader Thein Sein, Obama is expected to record an appearance on popular American daytime talk show “The View.”

The program is a favorite with women voters, a key demographic in the Nov. 6 election, as Obama seeks to cement a narrow lead over Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney.

After one night and 24 hours in New York spanning Monday and Tuesday, Obama will be out on the campaign trail again, traveling to swing state Ohio Wednesday and battleground Virginia later in the week as he gears up for three head-to-head debates with Romney next month.

Obama’s passing election-year appearance at the annual U.N. meetings contrasts with the early years of a presidency which prized grand foreign policy gestures on the global stage.

In an election in which the sluggish economy is the prime issue – despite the emergence of foreign policy challenges in Libya, Egypt and the Middle East – Obama’s focus is clearly on his domestic audience.

In his place, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will conduct meetings normally on the presidential portfolio, with talks expected with leaders of Israel, Myanmar, Pakistan and other nations vital to U.S. foreign policy.

When Obama steps up to deliver his speech to the U.N. Tuesday, he will be addressing a sudden chill in the Arab Spring following the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans this month.

“We were reminded this past week, this is a world still full of serious threats,” Obama said during a campaign trip to Wisconsin Saturday.

“We’re going to have to work to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. We’re going to have to make sure that not only our diplomatic posts are safe, but we go after folks who threaten or try to kill Americans.”

The president will tell the world from the General Assembly Hall that the United States rejects the video made by extremist Coptic Christians aired on YouTube that sparked violence across the Arab world, officials said.

National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said the U.N. General Assembly always “provides an opportunity for the President to put the international situation in context, and to put forward a vision of U.S. leadership.”

“I would certainly expect the President to address the recent unrest in the Muslim world and the broader context of the democratic transitions in the Arab world,” Vietor said.

“The president will make it clear that we reject the views in this video, while also underscoring that violence is never acceptable.”

Obama has come under significant political fire for his failure to meet Netanyahu during his stay in New York, amid fierce and an unusually public disagreement between Israel and Washington, over the Iranian nuclear challenge.

The White House said that the president’s schedule, close on 40 days before he asks voters for a second term, does not align with that of Netanyahu who will be in New York later in the week after the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.

Officials have denied turning down a request from the Israelis for a meeting in Washington.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 24, 2012, on page 11.

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