Barack Obama will use his keynote speech to the United Nations on Tuesday to confront the violent unrest in the Muslim world in the wake of a US-made anti-Islamic video – and to insist he will not be deflected from support for the Arab spring.
Amid attacks from Mitt Romney and the Republicans on Obama's Middle East record, the White House said the UN speech offered a chance for the president to address the issues raised by the unrest.
"It is a real moment for the US to assert its values and leadership in this period of transition," the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, said on Monday
Carney insisted there would be no retreat by the US into isolationism, and that the Obama administration would continue to provide support for the emerging democracies in the Middle East.
Looking for something positive amid recent criticism of the administration's handling of the unrest, he praised as "remarkable" the protests in Libya that had against Bengazhi militia groups blamed for the killing of US ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans almost two weeks ago.
With the White House election only six weeks away, Obama has to balance the diplomatic need to send a message to the international community with the political need to address a growing clamour in the US over the unrest.
Voters are becoming increasingly resentful over what they regard as ungrateful populations who receive US aid but then attack US embassies.
Obama enjoys a large poll lead over his Republican opponent Mitt Romney on foreign policy, mainly as a result of the killing of Osama bin Laden, but Democrats fear that lead could be eroded if the current wave of Middle East protests continues into October.
Carney said Obama would reiterate the sentiment that his administration distances itself from the anti-Muslim video produced in California but also deplores the violence that followed. The president "will make it clear we reject the views in the video while saying violence is never acceptable".
In an interview with CBS 60 Minutes broadcast on Sunday, Obama characterised the violence as "bumps on the road" to democracy. Some Republicans accused him of being disrespectful by using this term to describe events that had claimed the lives of Stevens and the other Americans.
Carney responded that the president was not referring to the deaths and that it was "offensive" to suggest otherwise.
Obama was scheduled to attend a reception for world leaders in New York on Monday night before addressing the general assembly on Tuesday morning.
He is being criticised by Republicans for failing to meet the Israeli leader Binyamin Netanyahu either in New York or Washington to discuss Iran's nuclear programme.
The Republicans are portraying this as a snub to what they say is America's closest ally.
Carney repeated, diplomatically, that it is a logistical problem, with Obama and Netanyahu in New York at different times. He added that Obama had spoken with leaders in the region frequently over the past month, particularly leaders from Egypt, Israel, Yemen and Turkey.
No bilateral meetings with any leaders are planned, Carney said.
Republicans have contrasted Obama's willingness to find time to appear on the daytime talk show The View while in New York on Monday with his failure to find time to meet one-on-one with other world leaders.
Carney said that while no bilaterals are planned, the president would have "encounters" with other leaders at the reception on Monday night and at the UN building on Tuesday.
Relations between Obama and Netanyahu have long been strained over Israel's continued expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and, more recently, Netanyahu's push to force Obama to agree red lines in the face-off with Iran.
Obama has shown no signs of seeking a rapproachment with Netanyahu, even though the coolness between the two may cost him some Jewish votes and campaign donations.
In his UN speech, Obama is to warn Iran that the window of opportunity for a diplomatic solution will not remain open indefinitely.
The US, Israel, Britain and other European Union countries allege that Iran is close to achieving a nuclear weapons capability and insist they will not allow this to happen. Iran insists its programme is for provision of energy for civilians and is not intended to produce a nuclear bomb.
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