By Steve Holland
JACKSONVILLE, Florida (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Tuesday criticized the Obama administration's initial response to violent attacks at U.S. diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya, as a campaign centered on the U.S. economy took a detour into foreign policy.
An American was killed in clashes at the diplomatic mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi as demonstrators protested what they described as a film that insulted the Prophet Mohammed. Protesters also attacked the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
The Romney campaign seized on an initial statement from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo in which the embassy said it "condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims - as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also issued a statement saying, "Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind."
Romney, who has made fixing the weak U.S. economy his central cause for defeating President Barack Obama in the November 6 election, was quick to pounce on Obama over developments in Libya and Egypt. Romney has long sought to make the case that the Obama administration has apologized for American actions abroad and says he would never "apologize for America."
"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," Romney said in a statement.
"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," he said.
The Obama campaign criticized Romney for his response.
"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," said Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt.
Romney was also likely to weigh in soon on U.S. relations with Israel. Obama spoke for an hour with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday and the two leaders are believed to be at odds over whether to launch a pre-emptive attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.
Romney met Netanyahu in Jerusalem in July and has talked tough against Iran as he seeks to woo Jewish-American voters who traditionally support Democratic candidates.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Philip Barbara)