Rice: Romney criticism of White House response to protests a 'vacuous charge'

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice dismissed Mitt Romney's criticism of the Obama administration over last week's violent Middle East protests as a "vacuous charge of weakness."

Rice maintained on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the international community and the American people understand and respect the president's foreign policy.

Americans, particularly those abroad in the affected areas, "welcome and appreciate strong, steady, unified leadership, bipartisan in times of challenge," said Rice, in a subtle dig at the GOP nominee. "They look to our leadership to be unified in responses."

Romney last week criticized the administration's handling of the violent demonstrations targeting U.S. embassies in the Muslim world, saying the incidents highlighted the president's failed international leadership. 

In a separate interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Rice said the administration’s record was strong. 

She said by focusing its efforts on decimating al Qaeda while ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States had shown countries around the world that it was a partner they could work with. “Our standing in the world is much stronger," she said. "So this charge of weakness is really quite baseless.”

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However, Rice on Sunday stopped short of jumping directly into the political fray that has emerged surrounding the protests.

"I'm not going to get into politics," she said on NBC. "That's not my role in this job."

Rice added that the administration "can't predict with any certainty" when protests against U.S. facilities across the Muslim world will end.

She maintained that the violence was a "spontaneous reaction" to a "hateful and offensive video."

"There is absolutely no excuse for violence and what has happened is condemnable," she added.

Although Libya's interim president, Mohammed el-Megarif, has said that attacks against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that left four Americans dead were premeditated, Rice maintained that the attacks were one of opportunity, not plotting.

"Our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was in fact, initially, a spontaneous reaction," she said. "Opportunistic extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding. They came with heavy weapons... and they escaped into a much more violent episode.

"That's our best judgment now," she added.

The administration did not fail to detect the emerging threat, as there was "no actionable intelligence to suggest that an attack on our facility in Benghazi was imminent," said Rice.

Following the protests, some Republican lawmakers have suggested that financial aid to places like Libya and Egypt should be on the chopping block. The U.S. currently sends over $1 billion a year to Egypt.

But Rice rebutted those charges, saying that those funds represent a worthwhile investment to advance American interests, while noting that turmoil in the Middle East is not new and these recent incidents should not spur a change in that policy.

"It serves our interests for Egypt to continue to be a strong partner," she said. "We are in these partnerships…over the long term."

Julian Pecquet contributed.