White House Press Secretary Jay Carney faced pressure to explain Monday why President Obama has made no public plans to meet one on one with world leaders on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
Asked repeatedly at the briefing about the president's plans, Carney said that Obama likely would run into foreign leaders at a reception Monday evening and continues to stay in contact with them. He urged Americans to tune in to the president's U.N. speech on Tuesday.
"The president's obviously got a busy schedule. He has a busy schedule all the time," Carney said at one point.
But Carney did not appear to give a direct answer when asked why Obama was able to fit in 13 one-on-one meetings on the sidelines of last year's summit and none this year. Obama instead was letting Secretary of State Hillary Clinton handle the meetings this year while he and first lady Michelle Obama were sitting down Monday for a taping of ABC's "The View" -- sparking criticism that he was putting the election campaign above such issues as Iran's quest for nuclear capability and the violent, deadly protests in the Middle East and North Africa.
It's still possible that Obama could schedule a last-minute meeting, but none so far have been announced.
Carney stressed that, amid the violent unrest in the Middle East, Obama recently has had phone conversations with the leaders of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and other nations.
"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 said. "He will see leaders from a variety of regions tonight at a reception in New York as part of the General Assembly and will deliver very important remarks tomorrow."
Clinton was handling the major meetings Monday. The secretary was meeting with Libyan President Mohamed Magariaf, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The wave of criticism about Obama allegedly putting his election efforts first began earlier this month with news that the White House had declined a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because the president would be on the campaign trail.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has repeatedly accused Obama of "throwing Israel under the bus" and most recently said the president's decision not to meet with Netanyahu was "confusing and troubling."
White House officials have said such a meeting is perhaps still possible Thursday or Friday.
Romney backed up his comments Sunday by saying that declining the meeting was a "mistake" -- as Netanyahu looks to the United States for assurance that it will stand tough or draw a "red line" that Iran cannot cross in its efforts to build a nuclear weapon.
"It sends a message throughout the Middle East that somehow we distance ourselves from our friends," Romney said in a CBS "60 Minutes" interview.
The president -- in a separate interview for the show -- said he talks with Netanyahu "all the time."
"I understand and share Prime Minister Netanyahu's insistence that Iran should not obtain a nuclear weapon because it would threaten us, it would threaten Israel and it would threaten the world and kick off a nuclear arms race," Obama said.
Carney noted Monday that Obama and Netanyahu recently spoke by phone for over an hour.