WASHINGTON -- His sights fixed firmly on securing a second term, President Barack Obama had hoped that the rest of the world would wait until after the election if it had to grow restless and demand his attention.

The eruptions in the streets of the Arab world, inflamed by an anti-Muslim video made in the U.S., mean Obama can put it off no longer. The protests are testing the president's foreign policy skills and giving voters a pre-election view of how he handles a crisis.

The turmoil also offers an opportunity – a risky one – for Obama to appear presidential in the midst of the election campaign, to contrast himself with a challenger less experienced in foreign policy and to illustrate that being president is not just about being a steward of the economy.

Even with a rebellion in Syria and tensions over Iran's nuclear ambitions, no international image can be more searing and demand more public attention than that of a U.S. embassy under attack and American civilians in peril. This week's angry demonstrators, flag burnings and imperiled civilians already were drawing comparisons to 1979, when Iranian revolutionaries stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 60 hostages and held them for 444 days, helping erode President Jimmy Carter's public support.

For Obama, the timing of the violent demonstrations less than two months before the election creates further complications.

His Republican rival, Mitt Romney, jumped on the administration for what he claimed was a feckless response to the breach of the U.S. embassy in Cairo. A favored and popular U.S. diplomat, the ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, was killed along with three other Americans in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. And protesters in the capital of Yemen stormed the U.S. embassy compound there and burned the U.S. flag.

"I know that it's difficult sometimes seeing these disturbing images on television because our world is filled with serious challenges," Obama told supporters Thursday in Golden, Colo. "It is a tumultuous time that we're in. But we can and we will meet those challenges if we stay true to who we are, and if we would remind ourselves that we're different from other nations."

U.S. officials sought to distinguish the anti-American protests from the Arab Spring revolutions that ousted long-time strongmen in Egypt, Libya and Yemen and that Obama backed.

"We see this now as principally tied to this video and those in the regions who are seeking to exploit it," a senior administration official said.

The protests and the attack in Libya present a juggling act for the president. He must show resolve both at home and abroad, pressing foreign governments to do their part in protecting U.S. personnel and property, condemning the protesters and at the same time denouncing a provocative, though amateurish video that finds refuge in the cherished U.S. right of free speech. At the same time, he has been forced to push back on Romney.

Obama accused his GOP rival of having "a tendency to shoot first and aim later." And while even some Republicans flinched at the timing of Romney's criticism, that could be forgotten if protests continue to threaten U.S. overseas posts.

Still, in an election dominated by the economy, other issues have grabbed headlines, only to quickly recede.

And Obama's response so far has been somber and focused on protecting foreign personnel. The Pentagon on Wednesday ordered two warships to the Libyan coast.

Obama forcefully condemned the attack in Libya and has decried the assaults on the embassies. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton forcefully denounced the film, which depicts Muhammad variously as a cartoonish lecher, fool and thug.

But it was just that type of condemnation from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo that prompted Romney to accuse the administration of issuing an "apology."

"If I was looking for what reminds people of the importance of poised presidential leadership, I have to come right out and say that Obama is getting the better part of the argument this week," said Michael O'Hanlon, a foreign policy expert at the Brookings Institution. "I like a lot of things about Romney, but he hasn't handled this very well."

The mob actions in Egypt, Libya and Yemen nevertheless present a challenge for Obama because they draw more attention than other foreign policy conundrums. What's more, in these instances the perpetrators are not state-sponsored, presenting Obama with a diffuse target.

"The risk here for President Obama is that he appears weak because there is not an easy military solution," said John Ullyot, a Republican strategist and former Senate Armed Services Committee aide. "You're talking about unruly mobs and shadowy figures."

The protests in Egypt came on the same day that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained that no ally had the right to demand that it not strike at Iran over its nuclear buildup. The White House was forced to tamp down reports from Jerusalem that Obama had rejected a Netanyahu request to meet on the sidelines of a United Nations General Assembly meeting later this month.

U.S. officials said the president's schedule would not allow for any such meetings, a contrast to last year when he packed his visit to the U.N. with individual sessions with foreign leaders.

Then Obama and Netanyahu spent an hour on the telephone, and the White House said they "reaffirmed that they are united in their determination to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and agreed to continue their close consultations going forward."

While the problems in Syria and tensions with Iran remain separate, U.S. officials are watching closely to ensure that the protests aren't manipulated by Iran to provoke even deeper problems.

"We watch for Iranian interference in different countries," the senior administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe administration thinking. "And when you have any type of instability, that's the type of thing that we look for."

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Egypt's Prime Minister Hesham Kandil told CNN that some people involved in the recent protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo were paid to protest. He also said that some were there on their own accord, though.

For more on his comments, click here.

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Both Libyans and "foreigners" carried out the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, said Libyan President Mohamed Magariaf.

"We have assumptions and we have some information, and all that information we have now leads to the same direction about the perpetrators, the criminals," he told NBC.

For more on Magariaf's comments, click here.

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A local security official walked CNN through the horrific attacks in Libya that left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens dead. Read the report here.

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@ JomanaCNN : One senior official just told me they have no evidence yet to support President's statements that attack was pre-planned. #Libya

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From the AP:

WASHINGTON — The State Department on Saturday ordered the departure of all family members and non-essential U.S. government personnel from posts in Sudan and Tunisia and is issuing travel warnings to American citizens in the two countries due to security concerns over anti-American violence.

"Given the security situation in Tunis and Khartoum, the State Department has ordered the departure of all family members and non-emergency personnel from both posts, and issued parallel travel warnings to American citizens," said Victoria Nuland, a department spokeswoman.

To read more, click here.

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anti islam film

In this image from video provided by CBS2-KCAL9, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the man behind the anti-Muslim movie that has inflamed the Middle East, is escorted by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies from his home, early Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, in Cerritos, Calif. Nakoula, 55, was interviewed by federal probation officers at a Los Angeles sheriff's station but was not arrested or detained, authorities said early Saturday. (AP Photo/CBS2-KCAL9)

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camp bastion

This image from AP video obtained from the SITE Intel Group posted by al-Emarah Jihadi Studio, an Afghan Taliban media unit who released two clips on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, purports to show smoke rising over Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, after what the Taliban media unit says is an attack at the base. (AP Photo/SITE Intelligence Group)

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According to an AFP report, a far-right group in Germany wants to screen 'Innocence of Muslims,' the film that sparked protests around the world, in Berlin.

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told Der Spiegel he would use every legal means at his disposal to stop them.

“Such groups and organizations only want to provoke Germany’s Muslims,” he said, accusing them of recklessly pouring oil on the fire.

Read the full story here.

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libya attack

President Mohammed el-Megarif, fourth right, meets an unidentified Libyan guard of the U.S. Consulate who was wounded following the deadly attack on September 11, 2012, at Benghazi Medical Center in Benghazi, Libya, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012. (AP Photo)

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Saudi Arabia's highest religious authority on Saturday condemned the attacks on U.S. embassies as un-Islamic, according to a report by Reuters.

"It is forbidden to punish the innocent for the wicked crimes of the guilty, or to attack those who have been granted protection of their lives and property, or to expose public buildings to fire or destruction," he said in a speech carried by state news agency SPA.

Read the full report here.

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@ AliTweel : 64 pictures from 12/09/2012 demonstration in #Tripoli against violence and condemnation of US consulate attack https://t.co/Q2CY4FFF #Libya

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Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore urged Muslims to refrain from violence on Saturday. From the AP:

Compaore, who is a convert to Islam, said that violence should not be the response of Muslims to provocations, even from the maker of the film of the Prophet Muhammad. Compaore described the filmmaker as a “brainless man who thinks he has the right to despise the religious feelings of others.”

Compaore deplored the street violence of recent days, saying the “credibility and greatness” of Islam is not through violence.

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"There is no religion that condones the targeting of innocent men and women. There is no excuse for attacks on our embassies and consulates. So long as I am commander-in-chief, the United States will never tolerate efforts to harm our fellow Americans."

Watch Obama's full remarks here:

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KHARTOUM, Sept 15 (Reuters) - Sudan has rejected a U.S. request to send a platoon of Marines to bolster security at the U.S. embassy in Khartoum, the state news agency SUNA said on Saturday.

On Friday, a U.S. official told Reuters that Washington would send Marines to Sudan to improve security at the embassy after protesters entered the mission in a demonstration against a film that insults the Prophet Mohammad.

"Sudan is able to protect the diplomatic missions in Khartoum and the state is committed to protecting its guests in the diplomatic corps," Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti told SUNA. (Reporting by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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@ latimes : People linked to 'Innocence of Muslims' receive death threats, consultant says http://t.co/gSdQXFDp

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afghanistan protest

Afghans burn an effigy of U.S. President Barack Obama during a protest in Khost, south-east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012. A few hundred university students protested against an anti-Islam film which depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud, a womanizer and a madman, shouting "death to America." (AP Photo/Nashanuddin Khan)

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From Reuters:

Afghanistan's Taliban claimed responsibility on Saturday for an attack on a base which U.S. officials said killed two American Marines, saying it was in response to a film that insults the Prophet Mohammad.

Camp Bastion, in southern Helmand province, came under mortar, rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire late on Friday in an attack in which several servicemen were wounded.

"The aim of this attack was revenge against Americans for the anti-Prophet movie," said Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf.

Read more here.

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From the Associated Press:

Riot police clashed with about 200 protesters at the U.S. Consulate in Sydney on Saturday as demonstrations against an anti-Islam film produced in the United States spread to Australia.

Ten Network television news showed a policeman knocked unconscious as the mostly male crowd hurled bottles and other missiles. Many of the protesters were wearing Muslim dress.

Police used pepper spray against the protesters, who chanted "Obama, Obama, we love Osama" and waved placards saying "Behead all those who insult the Prophet."

Read more here.

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From the Associated Press:

Tunisia's governing moderate Islamist party condemned an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tunis and the neighboring American school, saying such violence threatens the country's progress toward democracy after decades of dictatorship.

Read more here.

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From the Associated Press:

The U.S. is sending more spies, Marines and drones to Libya, trying to speed the search for those who killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, but the investigation is complicated by a chaotic security picture in the post-revolutionary country, and limited American and Libyan intelligence resources.

The CIA has fewer people available to send, stretched thin from tracking conflicts across the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Read more here.

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From the Associated Press:

Pope Benedict XVI appealed Saturday for religious freedom in the Middle East, calling it fundamental for stability in a region bloodied by sectarian strife.

Benedict spoke on the second day of his visit to Lebanon, a country with the largest percentage of Christians in the Middle East. He arrived amid a wave of violent demonstrations over an anti-Islam film across the Muslim world.

"Let us not forget that religious freedom is a fundamental right from which many other rights stem," he said, speaking in French to government officials, foreign diplomats and religious leaders at the president palace in Mount Lebanon in the southern suburbs of Beirut.

Read the whole story here.

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From Reuters:

Clashes near the U.S. Embassy in central Cairo between police and Egyptians incensed over a film denigrating the Prophet Mohammad entered their fourth day early on Saturday, leaving one protester dead and dozens more injured.

The clashes moved to a main road on the banks of the Nile after authorities closed the street leading to the embassy. The protesters, many of whom are intent upon breaking into the embassy, now are seeking alternative routes to the site.

Read the full story here.

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From Reuters:

At least two people were killed and 29 others were wounded on Friday when police fought hundreds of protesters who ransacked the U.S. embassy in Tunisia in their fury over a film denigrating the Prophet Mohammad, state television said.

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki condemned what he called "an attack against the embassy of a friendly nation".

Read the full story here.

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From the Associated Press:

A U.S. official says an elite Marine rapid response team is headed to Sudan in the wake of violence and protests against the embassy in Khartoum.

The deployment comes as Sudanese police opened fire on protesters trying to climb the walls of the U.S. Embassy.

Read the full story here.

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A 35-year-old protester was killed in the Egyptian capital on Friday as hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy clashed with police.

Read the full story here.

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U.S. officials say 55-year-old Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is being investigated for probation violations.

"A source with knowledge of the case confirmed that the probation office was looking specifically into Nakoula's possible involvement in making the film for violations of the terms of his release."

Read the full story here.

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AP video shows a group gathering to protest the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya:

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@ Reuters : Google rejects White House request to pull Mohammad film clip http://t.co/yi0s0288

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@ AP : BREAKING: US official says 2 Marines killed in attack on NATO base in Afghanistan

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"The people of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia did not trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of a mob," Clinton said on Friday at a ceremony for the Americans slain in Libya.

arab protests clinton

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, accompanied by President Barack Obama, speaks during a Transfer of Remains Ceremony, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., marking the return to the United States of the remains of the four Americans killed this week in Benghazi, Libya. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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