President Obama held 13 meetings with world leaders at last year’s United Nations summit but this time around none are scheduled – instead, he and his wife Michelle are heading to see the women of The View.
Obama will deliver a speech to the UN annual assembly on Tuesday but will be leaving the the one-on-one meetings to Hillary Clinton, his Secretary of State.
Critics have charged that Obama is suddenly vulnerable on foreign policy after the wave of violence in the Middle East and the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and does not want to risk an unscripted moment.
Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, found himself struggling to explain why Obama had gone from 13 meetings one years to zero the next.
He said he was ‘not going to preview every minute by minute’ of Obama’s time and insisted that he regularly engaged directly with world leaders.
‘The president just in recent weeks has had intensive consultations with leaders in the region, with the leaders of Turkey, of Egypt, of Israel, of Yemen, of Libya, of Afghanistan, and that process will continue,’ he said.
‘It is a simple fact that when you’re president of the United States, your responsibility as commander-in-chief never ends and you are constantly engaged in matters of foreign affairs and national security. And that’s what this president is doing.’
He added that Obama would ‘encounter’ world leaders on the sidelines and the ‘intensive’ discussions he had held by telephone recently would be built on. ‘Those consultations will continue.’
Obama has faced fierce criticism for declining a meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli premier, who offered to travel down to Washington. The two men have the frostiest personal relationship of any US and Israeli leaders in living memory.
Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, said that refusing to meet Netanyahu was ‘confusing and troubling’.