Republican Mitt Romney slammed the Obama administration's handling of foreign affairs after attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya as foreign policy pushed to the front of the presidential campaign.

Romney branded the administration's early response to the attacks as "disgraceful" in a statement the former Massachusetts governor released before confirmation that the American ambassador had been killed.

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FULL COVERAGE: Libyan Embassy Attack

Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said the campaign was "shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Gov. Romney would choose to launch a political attack." The president planned to make a statement Wednesday morning in a White House Rose Garden appearance with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three American members of his staff were killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi. Libyan officials said the attack was carried out by protesters angry over an obscure film by a California filmmaker that ridiculed Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

Romney pounced on news of the attacks, trying to seize an opportunity to criticize President Barack Obama on an area where voters see him as a stronger leader. Polling shows Americans trust Obama more on foreign policy and national security — areas where Republicans traditionally have an edge in public opinion. An appearance scheduled Wednesday morning before his Jacksonville, Fla., campaign office was quickly changed, with supporters gathered to hear the candidate speak quickly ushered out so Romney could take questions from reporters in response to the Libyan developments.

On Capitol Hill, House and Senate Republicans mostly steered clear of the political criticism that Romney leveled at Obama over foreign policy, focusing on the lives lost in the Egyptian and Libyan attacks and imploring the two governments to condemn the incidents and protect American diplomatic missions.Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee who has traveled to Libya and met with Stevens, said: "The Libyan and Egyptian people should understand that the U.S. shares their commitment to building more hopeful and prosperous nations. However, if left unchecked, violent attacks like these against our embassies and diplomats will lead Libya and Egypt down a dark path and rob them of their hopes of a more prosperous and democratic future. "

Romney said in his earlier statement that he was outraged by the attacks and the administration's early response seemed to sympathize with the attackers. "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."

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)