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Romney ratchets up criticism of Obama on initial response to embassy attacks

GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney criticizes the Obama administration concerning their response to the "disgusting" attack on the US consulate in Libya in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

Updated 2:50 pm ET Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Wednesday condemned a statement made by the American embassy in Cairo that criticized a video made by an Israeli-American that portrayed the prophet Muhammad in a disparaging way and may have sparked mob attacks on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, as well as on the Cairo embassy.

The Libya attack killed four Americans including Chris Stevens, U.S. ambassador to the North African nation.

Repeating criticism he made in a statement overnight, Romney slammed the initial U.S. embassy statement put out in Cairo on Tuesday as “disgraceful” and “a severe miscalculation” that was “akin to apology.”

He said it was “a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values ... Apology for America’s values is never the right course.”

The GOP candidate said President Barack Obama was responsible for the Cairo embassy statement -- even though White House officials had on Tuesday night disavowed it.

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“It’s their administration that spoke,” Romney told reporters at a press conference in Florida. “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 sent mixed messages to the world.”

Romney said the White House disavowal of the Cairo embassy statement “reflects the mixed signals they’re sending to the world.”

Mitt Romney is standing by his original statement regarding the events in Libya and Egypt as reporters piled on questions about the timing of his comments. Former Ambassador Richard Williamson discusses.

But NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported that the Cairo embassy statement was issued six hours before the mob attacked the embassy. She pressed Romney foreign policy advisor Ambassador Richard Williamson to explain why Romney had criticized a statement made before the mob assault.

Williamson said the White House was trying to distract from the substance of the issue by focusing on the timing of the Cairo statement. “The fact is the substance of what the governor said last night was true -- he continues to stand by it,” Williamson told Mitchell on MSNBC.

Williamson said the Cairo embassy statement “was re-issued after the U.S. compound in Cairo was breached.” He contended that “the White House didn’t respond and back away  from it and say they did not approve of this (Cairo embassy) statement until many hours later after President Obama had seen the statement from Gov. Romney.”

House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., told Mitchell that the Benghazi attack was “a well-armed, well-coordinated event” and not mere spontaneous mob violence.

Rogers kept his distance from Romney’s condemnation of the Cairo embassy statement, saying, “I’m not exactly sure what Gov. Romney was specifically talking about. I think probably what you saw there was the frustration over a foreign policy that is probably is a little out of kilter … .”

The attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya and in Cairo almost immediately became a campaign issue Tuesday night, ending the hiatus in political action for the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

NBC's Richard Engel reports from outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, where Egyptians have lowered the level of their protests against a controversial anti-Islam movie made by an Israeli-American filmmaker. However, there may be nationwide protests on Friday called by the ruling Muslim Brotherhood party.

At 10:25 p.m. ET Tuesday night -- after news of the attacks in Cairo and Benghazi but before it was confirmed Stevens had been killed -- the Romney campaign released a statement in which Romney said, “I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi.  It's disgraceful that the Obama Administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

Romney’s criticism of the “Obama Administration's first response” was a reference to the following statement issued by the American embassy in Cairo: “The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims -- as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others."

Charles Dharapak / AP

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney makes comments on the killing of U.S. embassy officials in Benghazi, Libya, while speaking in Jacksonville, Fla., Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012.

After the Romney campaign issued his statement on Tuesday night, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt issued one of his own, saying, “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.”

A few minutes after Romney spoke on Wednesday morning, Obama appeared in the White House Rose Garden with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and said, “The United States condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack.”

The president said he had ordered increased security protection for U.S. diplomatic posts around the world and pledged to “work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people.” He added, “We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act and make no mistake: justice will be done.”

Obama said the lives of Stevens and his colleagues “stand in stark contrast to those of their attackers” because they “stood up for freedom and human dignity.”

Obama said the United States “rejects all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others -- but there is absolutely no justification for this type of senseless violence. None.” He said many Libyans had joined the United States in condemning the attack in Benghazi.

The president made no reference to Romney’s statements in his brief remarks.

Former Sen. Blanche Lincoln and former Sen. John Sununu talk about the political reaction to the attack in Libya that killed the U.S. Ambassador Stevens.

When a reporter asked Romney Wednesday morning whether he had “jumped the gun” in reacting Tuesday night to the Cairo embassy statement, the Republican said, “I don’t think we ever hesitate when we see something which is a violation of our principles. We express immediately when we feel that the president and his administration have done something which is inconsistent with the principles of America. Simply put, having an embassy which has been breached and has protestors on its grounds, having the violated the sovereignty of the United States, having that embassy reiterate a statement effectively apologizing for the right of free speech -- is not the right course for an administration.”

Later in an impromptu remark, Romney also commented on the brewing controversy over whether Obama refused to schedule a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a United Nations gathering.

NBC’s Mitchell reported that Israeli officials had suggested Tuesday that the White House was snubbing Netanyahu by not scheduling a meeting in late September.

The White House issued a statement Tuesday night saying that “contrary to reports in the press, there was never a request for Prime Minister Netanyahu to meet with President Obama in Washington, nor was a request for a meeting ever denied.”

But Netanyahu’s office emailed a contradictory statement saying “the Prime Minister’s Office requested a meeting with President Obama during his visit. The White House informed Jerusalem that a meeting during those days won’t be possible due to the President’s agenda.”

Referring to all this, Romney said "I stand with our friends in Israel … I stand strong with our allies. I can't ever imagine, if the prime minister of Israel asked to meet with me, I can't imagine ever saying no. They're our friends; they're our closest allies in the Middle East.”