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Obama defends embassy security during Univision town hall

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- President Obama today defended his administration’s efforts to protect American diplomats around the world in the wake of a round of violent attacks on embassies in the Middle East.

A journalist at an afternoon town hall meeting here asked Obama why his administration “wasn’t better prepared with more security” at the time of the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where four Americans were killed last week.

Obama did not directly address the point about preparation in advance, but he said that as soon as officials saw the initial events near the embassy in Cairo before the attack in Benghazi, his administration worked with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to take precautions.

Obama said he took the issue straight to leaders in the Middle East, suggesting that he put the onus on them.

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“When the initial events happened in Cairo and all across the region, we worked with Secretary Clinton to redouble our security,” he said, “and to send a message to the leaders of these countries essentially saying, ‘Although we had nothing to do with the video, we find it offensive, it’s not representative of America’s views, how we treat each other with respect when it comes to their religious beliefs.... But we will not tolerate violence.”

The town hall meeting hosted by the Univision network and Facebook was the first extended opportunity journalists have had to press Obama on the question since the deadly attacks in Benghazi.

The president blocked out an hour for the “Meet the Candidate” event and took several follow-up questions on a range of issues. He disputed the suggestion from one moderator that he broke a campaign promise by failing to pass comprehensive immigration reform, which he said was not through “lack of trying or desire.” He also defended his attorney general for his handling of “Fast and Furious,” the gun trafficking operation gone awry.

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Univision hosts Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas started by asking the president about unrest in the Middle East. In response to a direct question, Obama said he did not know whether Iran or Al Qaeda was behind the attacks on the embassies.

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He said he believes the “natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests.”

The president also said he relies on the leaders in the Middle East to help bring the perpetrators of violence to justice.

“We’ve insisted on and have received so far full cooperation from countries like Egypt and Libya and Tunisia,” he said, “in not only protecting our diplomatic posts but also to make sure that we discover who in fact is trying to take advantage of this.”

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christi.parsons@latimes.com

Twitter: @cparsons

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