Obama, Romney To Address Clinton Global Initiative

It's another week in the spotlight for former President Bill Clinton. On Tuesday, both President Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney will address the Clinton Global Initiative. The latest polls show Obama's numbers dropping on foreign policy. Romney is trying to exploit that weakness.

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President Obama is in New York City today, addressing the United Nations General Assembly. Now, foreign policy has lately become a major focus of the presidential campaign, which had been centered almost exclusively on the economy. That changed recently when a film produced in the United States prompted protests across the Muslim world, including the killing of a U.S. ambassador, one of the things we are expecting the president to talk about shortly. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson is covering the story. She's in New York. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What is the president saying?

LIASSON: The president is going to be talking about the importance of those in the region, in the Middle East, condemning slander against Christians and Jews. He's going to say that the attacks of the last two weeks are not simply an assault on America; they're also an assault on the very ideals upon which the United Nations was founded. He's also going to talk about Ambassador Stevens, who was killed in Libya. He's going to talk about how the ambassador's approach to the region was to challenge the U.N. to denounce the violence.

He's going to talk about Syria. He's also going to talk about Iran. He's going to say a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained.

INSKEEP: That's a really interesting thing you mentioned there, Mara. And of course we don't know exactly what the president is going to say, but remarks are circulating, extracts of the remarks. You said talking about challenging people in other countries to condemn slander against Christians and Jews. Are you saying the president is going to turn this controversy over a film about the Prophet Muhammad on its head and essentially say if people in Muslim countries are concerned about slandering religion, they should stop doing it?

LIASSON: That is what his excerpts suggest, a kind of look in the mirror message to the U.N. General Assembly.

INSKEEP: Okay, so that's coming shortly. And it is by no means the only speech in New York today. In fact, it's not the only speech President Obama is giving today. Mitt Romney and President Obama are both expected to talk at a forum sponsored by former President Bill Clinton. Governor Romney, in fact - I should say, to be correct - has already spoken there, and what did he have to say?

LIASSON: Well, it was pretty interesting. Mitt Romney and Bill Clinton walked out on the stage together, and of course Bill Clinton is the single most important surrogate for President Obama. But he introduced Mitt Romney very graciously. He said - he told a story about how - where he was trying to save funding for AmeriCorps, which was based on City Year, a program that started in Massachusetts, how helpful Mitt Romney was when he was governor of Massachusetts, how he sent him a letter with 48 other governors saying we should continue funding for this. And then Romney, when he began, said one thing we've learned this election season is that a few words from Bill Clinton can do any man a lot of good, and after that introduction, I guess all I have to do is wait a day or two for the bounce.

INSKEEP: Okay.

LIASSON: It was really a very charming, friendly and remarkably unpartisan speech.

INSKEEP: Remarkable, because Bill Clinton has been a central campaigner for President Obama. Once Governor Romney got into the substance of his remarks, what did he have to say?

LIASSON: Well, he talked about how development and the development of free enterprise in the Middle East and other regions is really the answer to hate and violence. And I would say this was the most comprehensive, articulate defense that he's made so far about the power of free enterprise. And he said that in the weeks ahead he's going to continue talking about this. It's almost as if he offered a little preview that he's going to be giving a lot more speech, more speeches about free enterprise and development and foreign aid and foreign policy. But he did lay out what he thinks development is important for - not just to enhance the strategic interests of the United States, but also it's a moral good. Developing free enterprise is a moral good. It lifts people out of poverty. It keeps them out of poverty. But also it's the right thing to do.

INSKEEP: In just 10 seconds or so, hasn't Romney trailed President Obama when people are asked who they trust on foreign policy?

LIASSON: Yes, that's true. But President Obama's numbers on foreign policy have begun to come down because of the violence in the Middle East and the Romney campaign sees this as an opening.

INSKEEP: Mara, thanks very much.

LIASSON: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mara Liasson in New York.

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