Mitt Romney has made a sweeping critique of President Barack Obama's handling of threats in the Middle East in an address on foreign policy.

The Republican candidate departed from his focus on the US economy to talk about how he would handle foreign policy if elected on 6 November.

The speech allowed him to lay out his national security positions ahead of his 16 October debate with Mr Obama, which will include discussion of foreign policy.

His aim was to portray himself as having the presidential stature needed for the world stage, and he sought to convince Americans that he would project strong American leadership around the world but not rush blindly into armed conflict.

The address was intended to reframe Mr Romney's approach following harsh criticism he drew last month for inserting campaign politics into the killing of the US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and after a gaffe-filled trip to Britain, Israel and Poland in July.

In a speech to cadets at the Virginia Military Institute, Mr Romney raised questions about Mr Obama's handling of Libya and accused him of failing to use US diplomacy to shape events in Iran, Iraq, Israel, Syria, Russia, and elsewhere.

"The president is fond of saying that 'The tide of war is receding,'" Mr Romney said.

"And I want to believe him as much as anyone. But when we look at the Middle East is clear that the risk of conflict in the region is higher now than when the president took office," he said.

Mr Romney accused Mr Obama of pursuing a strategy of "passivity" instead of partnership with US allies in the region.

"I know the president hopes for a safer, freer, and a more prosperous Middle East allied with the United States. I share this hope. But hope is not a strategy," he said.

The former Massachusetts governor also pledged to tighten sanctions on Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions and deploy warships in the region to apply pressure on Tehran.

He would also increase military assistance and coordination to Israel, which has threatened a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.

Mr Romney pledged that his administration would work to find elements of the Syrian opposition who share US values and ensure they obtain weapons needed to defeat President Bashir al-Assad's forces and end his crackdown.

Syrian rebels have accused the United States and Western allies of sitting on the sidelines of the conflict.

"Iran is sending arms to Assad because they know his downfall would be a strategic defeat for them.

“We should be working no less vigorously with our international partners to support the many Syrians who would deliver that defeat to Iran -rather than sitting on the sidelines," Mr Romney said.

Romney halts slide in polls

Mr Romney also appears to have halted his slide in the polls and is back to running a close race with President Obama.

The Reuters/Ipsos daily poll puts the Obama campaign in front on 47%, with Mr Romney now up to 45%.

A solid performance against Mr Obama at last Wednesday's first presidential debate in Denver has helped the Republican challenger regain ground in several swing states.

Mr Romney is now sounding more confident and has put the normally sure-footed Obama campaign on the defensive.

He delivered a major foreign policy speech today in Virginia.

Meanwhile, Mr Obama chided himself yesterday for his weak debate performance against Mr Romney.

He reminded supporters at a California fundraiser that even his successful 2008 campaign had "bumps" in the road.

Mr Obama, whose campaign has said it would make adjustments as a result of the debate, noted his White House win four years ago.

He said the 2008 campaign had its own share of hurdles, including mistakes he made.

At another, more intimate fundraiser later in the evening, Mr Obama pledged to work harder than ever to gain re-election, in what could have been an effort to reassure his supporters after the lacklustre debate performance.

The president noted that the encounter with Mr Romney had happened on his 20th wedding anniversary, a fact that he offered up as another potential reason for his poor performance.

A vice presidential debate is due to take place on Friday between Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Paul Ryan.