WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney criticized President Obama in remarks broadcast Sunday for refusing to meet with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, during this week’s UN General Assembly meeting, saying it sends a message that the administration is distancing itself from a key Middle East ally.
‘’I think the exact opposite approach is what’s necessary,’’ Romney said on the CBS News program ‘‘60 Minutes’’ on Sunday evening.
Obama, speaking in a separate interview on the same program, said that he speaks frequently with Netanyahu and described Israel as ‘‘one of our closest allies in the region.’’
He also challenged Romney, who has accused Obama of not standing up forcefully enough to Syria and Iran, to be more specific about his foreign policy plans. ‘‘So if Governor Romney is suggesting that we should start another war,’’ Obama said, ‘‘he should say so.’’
The two presidential contenders carried out a shadow debate that offered a probable preview of the tone and substance of the first of their three face-to-face debates, to be held in Denver on Oct. 3.
Romney tried once again to undo some of the damage done by remarks to a group of wealthy donors recorded in May and released last week, in which he said that 47 percent of the American people paid no income taxes, were dependent on government and would never vote for him.
Republican critics have called for a shake-up in the Romney campaign in the wake of the furor over the remarks and other issues.
Romney said that he was essentially tied with Obama, and the campaign did not need a turnaround. ‘‘That’s not the campaign,’’ he said of his contentious remarks. ‘‘That was me, right?’’
‘‘I’ve got a very effective campaign,’’ he said. “It’s doing a very good job. But not everything I say is elegant.’’
Romney, who spent much of his weekend raising money in California, said he plans to reduce the time he spends on fund-raising and devote more time to meeting voters. On Sunday, he launched a more aggressive campaign schedule in key states, starting with an event at a Denver high school.
After Colorado, Romney is to begin a three-day bus tour in Ohio Monday followed by a stop in Virginia — states that Obama won in 2008 but that Republicans claimed four years earlier. While national polls remain tight, polls in several of the most closely watched states, including Colorado, suggest Obama has opened narrow leads.
Obama took a weekend break from the campaign. He will be among 120 world leaders converging at the United Nations this week for its annual ministerial meeting, and is scheduled to address the group Tuesday.
In the CBS interview, Romney said he would consider means-testing Social Security benefits for future retirees, and he put some distance between his plans for refashioning Medicare as a voluntary voucher program and the proposal by his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan, to reduce payments to the health care program by some $700 billion.
‘‘Yeah, he was going to use that money to reduce the budget deficit,’’ Romney said of Ryan. ‘‘I’m putting it back into Medicare, and I’m the guy running for president, not him.’’
Obama took a fairly combative tone in his interview, defending the administration’s actions on financial bailouts, health care legislation, and efforts to help homeowners and job seekers. He laid most of the blame on Republicans in Congress who he said were intent on denying him a second term and cared nothing for the plight of the jobless.
He said he regretted that he had failed in one of the central promises of his 2008 campaign — to change the tone of Washington. ‘‘I’m the first one to confess the spirit that I brought to Washington that I wanted to see instituted, where we weren’t constantly in a political slugfest but were focused more on problem solving, that, you know, I haven’t fully accomplished that,’’ Obama said. ‘‘Haven’t even come close in some cases.’’
Both men said that their work days ended about 10 p.m., though they described their late-night routines somewhat differently. Obama said that after his wife and daughters went to sleep he would spend several hours reading and writing. Sometimes, he said, he would repair to the Truman Balcony and gaze out over the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial. ‘‘And so,’’ the president said, ‘‘those are moments of reflection that, you know, help gird you for the next challenge and the next day.’’
Romney said that he would end the day with a conversation with his wife, Ann, and then read and plan the next day.
After that, he said, ‘‘I pray. Prayer is a time to connect with the divine, but also time, I’m sure, to concentrate one’s thoughts, to meditate and to imagine what might be.’’