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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