Reporters Press WH: Why Isn’t Obama Meeting With Foreign Leaders in NY?

By Susan Jones | September 25, 2012 | 6:21 AM EDT

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama appear on the ABC Television show "The View" in New York, Monday, Sept. 24, 2012, From left are, Whoopi Goldberg, Barbara Walters, the president, the first lady, Joy Behar, Sherri Shepherd and Elisabeth Hasselbeck. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

( - When President Obama addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday morning, he will "put the international situation in context" and "put forward a vision of U.S. leadership," White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday.

But Carney had a tougher time explaining to White House reporters why Obama will not hold formal meetings with any foreign leaders while he's in New York.

Carney said that Obama would "certainly encounter many leaders" at a Monday night reception and again on Tuesday. Carney also mentioned that Obama has had "extensive consultations" by telephone in the last few weeks with foreign leaders, including the leaders of Egypt, Israel, Yemen, Turkey, and Libya. Those consultations "will continue," Carney said. "It is part of the job and a part of the job he takes extremely seriously."

At Monday’s White House news briefing, Carney took multiple questions on Obama’s decision not to meet with foreign leaders:

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One reporter asked Carney, "What do you make of the Republican complaint that the President has time to tape 'The View' and no time for (Israeli) Prime Minister Netanyahu?" (Obama and his wife taped "The View" on Monday, and the show will air on Tuesday.)

Carney responded that Netanyahu and Obama will not be in New York on the same days. "The president just recently had a conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu that lasted more than an hour, I believe, and that was just one in countless conversations that they’ve had.”

Carney added that Obama “has met with and spent time on the phone with Prime Minister Netanyahu more than with any leader since he took office.  And that is a reflective of the importance of and the closeness of the relationship between the United States and Israel..."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet with Netanyahu on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

Another reporter pressed Carney: "What is the justification for the president not having sideline discussions with these world leaders?"

“First of all, I’m not going to preview every minute-by-minute of the president’s schedule when he’s in New York,” Carney said. “Secondly, 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.

“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 matter of foreign affairs and national security.  And that's what this president is doing.”

Carney took several more questions, including this one: “I know you said the president has gotten readouts, has had consultations with leaders throughout the region.  But isn’t there something different between having a phone conversation and meeting and talking with someone in person?”

Carney responded: “Well, again, the president will see a number of leaders tonight and tomorrow.  But I would make the point that he does not wait for the annual meeting in New York to have meetings with or consultations with foreign leaders.  He has a fairly robust schedule of meetings with and conversations with foreign leaders.  The ones I just mentioned have had to do with the recent unrest in the Arab world.  But those kinds of consultations continue all the time, including in earlier parts of this year and continuing to this day -- regular consultations with leaders in Europe over the situation in the eurozone, as well as with leaders in different parts of the world over different issues.  And that continues and will continue going forward.”

Another reporter noted that last year, President Obama had 13 bilateral meetings with foreign leaders during his visit to the U.N. General Assembly, but this year, “you can’t  tell us of any. So what is different about last year and this year?”

Carney ducked the question, saying that President Obama “looks forward to speaking tomorrow.” Carney then repeated the general outline of what the president will say in his Tuesday morning speech to the U.N. General Assembly.

“But the U.N. meeting has always lent itself to a number of bilats, but not this year?” the reporter persisted.

“Well, I have no meetings to announce to you, Mark,” Carney said. “ I mean, the president’s schedule includes the reception this (Monday) evening.  It includes his speech tomorrow.  Beyond that I don't have details for you.  But again, I think it’s fairly clear, based on the President’s engagement with foreign leaders just in the last several weeks, that he is intensively engaged in matters of national security and foreign policy as he has been throughout his presidency.”

And the press corps still wasn’t satisfied:

“At the risk of asking the same question a number of times, on Mark’s question, I’m not sure that we actually got an answer.  He gave you some stats that last year the President has 13 bilats during the General Assembly, and this year there is zero.  What is the specific reason?” a reporter asked Carney.

“Look, the president -- I can tell you again that the president has had extensive conversations with leaders in the region where there has been unrest of late.  He will continue to have those conversations.  He will see leaders from a variety of regions tonight at a reception in New York as part of the General Assembly meeting, and will deliver very important remarks tomorrow at UNGA.  And his consultations and meetings with foreign leaders will continue going forward as they -- with the same kind of intensity that we’ve seen of late as dictated and required by events in the world and by this President’s commitment to U.S. national security interests."

“Is his scheduled too packed this year?” the reporter asked.

“The president has obviously got a busy schedule.  He has a busy schedule all the time.  It is a fact that he has in recent weeks been intensively engaged in matters of foreign affairs.  And that's part of being president,” Carney said.

Earlier, Carney had suggested that the decision not to hold bilateral meetings with visiting leaders on the fringes of the U.N. session this year was in line with previous campaigns by incumbents seeking re-election.

As reported on Monday, that is not true: Of the past four American presidents who attended the U.N.’s September event while campaigning for re-election, only one held no bilateral meetings on the event sidelines.