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Romney, Obama campaigns criticize each other’s responses to US deaths in Libya

Mitt Romney talked in Jacksonville, Fla., about the killing of US embassy officials in Benghazi, Libya.

Charles Dharapak/Associated Press

Mitt Romney talked in Jacksonville, Fla., about the killing of US embassy officials in Benghazi, Libya.

WASHINGTON – Mitt Romney today accused President Obama of mishandling the initial response to the attack on the US Embassy in Egypt and a consulate in Libya, saying his administration had sent “mixed signals” to the world and had initially taken on an apologetic tone.

The Obama campaign rejected Romney’s criticism, and Obama didn’t mention his Republican rival in a Rose Garden appearance in which he condemned the attack that killed the US ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.

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Romney, seizing upon the attacks to draw sharp distinctions with Obama, repeatedly criticized the president during a press conference held in Jacksonville, Fla. The appearance by the Republican presidential nominee demonstrated how foreign policy, which has been overshadowed by the economy in the presidential campaign, can reemerge at any moment as a major issue.

“It’s a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values,” Romney said. “And apology for America’s values is never the right course.”

Romney blamed Obama for initial comments on the attacks. He said that an initial statement issued by the US Embassy in Egypt -- which the White House later distanced itself from -- had gone too far in sympathizing with protesters in Cairo.

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A crowd of protesters gathered on Tuesday outside the US Embassy in Cairo, apparently furious over an anti-Muslim film that was produced in the United States. The embassy in Cairo issued a statement saying in part that it condemned “the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims -- as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.”

It was released before the deaths in Benghazi, Libya, were reported, and the White House said it had not been authorized.

“It’s their administration. Their administration spoke,” Romney said. “The president takes responsibility not just for the words that come from his mouth, but also for the words that come from his ambassadors, from his administration, from his embassies, from his State Department.”

“They clearly -- they clearly -- sent mixed messages to the world,” he added. “The embassy is the administration. The statement that came from the administration was a statement which is akin to apology, and I think was a severe miscalculation.”

Romney went on to use the handling of the situation to try and draw a contrast with his own foreign policy views.

“President Obama has demonstrated a lack of clarity as to a foreign policy,” Romney said. “…It’s a hit or miss approach, but it has not been based on sound foreign policy.”

The Obama campaign condemned what it said was Romney’s effort to politicize 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,” said Ben LaBolt, an Obama campaign spokesman.

Senator John Kerry also criticized Romney, saying “this is one of those moments when Americans must unite as Americans. It is exactly the wrong time to throw political punches.”

Obama sought to stay above politics in his remarks, delivered from the Rose Garden with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by his side.

“The United States condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack,” Obama said. “There is absolutely no justification to this senseless violence. None.”

He did not mention Romney, and did not take questions.

Romney on Tuesday night, before it became clear that the ambassador had been killed, accused the Obama administration of sympathizing with protesters who burned down the US consulate in Benghazi.

Protesters set fire to the consulate in Benghazi on Tuesday, killing US Ambassador to Libya John Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Excerpts of the film have been dubbed into Arabic and posted on YouTube.

The film depicts Muhammad as murderer, rapist and child molester. Other characters in the movie call Muhammad gay and a bastard.

In Egypt, protesters climbed the wall of the US embassy in Cairo and replaced the American flag with an Islamic banner but did not kill anyone.

In a statement Tuesday, Clinton said “some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”

Callum Borchers can be reached at callum.borchers@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.
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