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RENO - In a sweeping defense of his foreign policy record, President Barack Obama said this afternoon that the United States is "safer and stronger and more respected in the world" than when he took office.

"Four years ago, I made you a promise," Obama told the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. "I pledged to take the fight to our enemies, and renew our leadership in the world. As president, that's what I've done."

The Democratic president defended the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq and the draw-down in Afghanistan, and his mention of the killing of Osama bin Laden drew applause from several thousand veterans gathered in Reno. Obama said the sanctions his administration has applied to Iran and North Korea are the strictest ever.

"Because we're leading around the world, people have a new attitude toward America. There's more confidence in our leadership," he said. "So this is the progress that we've made. Thanks to the extraordinary service of our men and women in uniform, we're winding down a decade of war; we're destroying the terrorist network that attacked us; we're strengthening the alliances that extend our values. And today, every American can be proud that the United States is safer and stronger and more respected in the world."

Obama's remarks came on one of the bloodiest days in Iraq in recent years, with a series of coordinated bombings and shootings killing more than 100 people in the country Monday.

Obama did not address the violence, but he defended his withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq, fulfilling a campaign promise he made in 2008.

Republican Mitt Romney, who has criticized the withdrawal as premature, is scheduled to address the convention of veterans Tuesday.

The speeches - and a series of fundraisers in California - come as Obama and Romney returned to their campaigns following a break in the days immediately after the movie theater shooting in Colorado.

Obama did not mention Romney by name, but he criticized those who faulted the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

"Some said that bringing our troops home last year was a mistake," Obama said. "They would have kept tens of thousands of our forces in Iraq indefinitely, without a clear mission. Well, when you're commander-in-chief, you owe the troops a plan, you owe the country a plan, and that includes recognizing not just when to begin wars, but also how to end them."

Obama promoted himself as a champion for veterans at home, promoting health care programs and tax credits. He told the veterans, "I've got your back."

Romney will speak before making a trip this week to England, Israel and Poland, a chance for the former Massachusetts governor to cast himself as a statesman on the world stage.

The Romney campaign blasted Obama following his speech.

"In no region of the world is our country's influence any stronger than it was four years ago," Ryan Williams, a Romney campaign spokesman, said in a prepared statement. "President Obama has failed to restore our economy, is weakening our military with devastating defense cuts, and has diminished our moral authority."

Obama headed from Reno to California this afternoon for three fundraisers in the Bay Area, the first leg of a West Coast fundraising swing. Romney was raising money Sunday and Monday in California, where he appeared to lament how reliably Democratic statewide elections have become.

"Boy," he told supporters at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco on Sunday night, "somebody's got to do something for California."



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