By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney accused the White House of weakness in dealing with Russia, his campaign's latest attack on President Barack Obama as he wrestles with prickly foreign policy issues.
On the same day Obama held a high-stakes meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin about Syria, Romney said his political rival had not been tough enough with Moscow.
"The Obama message to Moscow has been a reset policy, that somehow everything is warm and fuzzy between us and Moscow, and what we've seen over the last several years is that Moscow didn't get the message," Romney said on Monday in an interview with Fox News that was aired on Tuesday.
"The president's reset policy has been an abject failure."
Obama had a chilly meeting with Putin on Monday at a G-20 summit in Mexico about Russian support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is repressing a 15-month revolt against his government.
Romney's remarks were the second time in recent days that his camp attacked Obama while he was dealing with foreign leaders, a tactic that used to be regarded as off limits, as criticizing the president could undermine U.S. interests abroad.
A Romney economic adviser last week wrote an opinion column in a German business newspaper saying the White House was trying to force Germany to help struggling governments and banks, and urging Berlin not to listen, characterizing the administration's policies as unwise and ignorant.
The White House said Romney's team had gone too far by criticizing the U.S. government in a foreign country.
"Governor Romney, his chief economic adviser, Glenn Hubbard, wrote an op-ed, an article in Germany, that basically went against what our government is trying to do, to encourage the Europeans to take action," senior Obama adviser David Plouffe said on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" on Sunday.
"And to inject yourself in this for some short-sighted partisan gain, perhaps, is really unbelievable," he said.
Plouffe's comments harkened back to an unspoken Cold War-era policy in which U.S. political candidates largely held off from criticizing sitting presidents on foreign policy. But that tradition has looked outmoded given, for example, Obama's criticism of President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq when he won the White House in 2008.
"When we were in a bipolar world, there was a kind of gentleman's agreement that foreign policy stopped at the water's edge," said Christopher Arterton, a political scientist at George Washington University. "There was a bipartisan consensus, but it has pretty much broken down over the years."
Now, he said, Obama's advisers were just trying to shut down Romney's attacks however they can. "It is pretty much an effort to get Romney to back off," Arterton said.
The economy will be the central issue in campaigning for the November 6 presidential election, but foreign policy concerns give the Republicans a chance to chip away in an area in which Romney has little experience and where polls show more Americans trust Obama.
The tough re-election fight has complicated Obama's efforts to work with Russia on Syria. The U.S. president is under pressure to avoid giving Republicans an opening to accuse him of being soft on Moscow, when he is already defending his record on the struggling U.S. economy.
(Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney)