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Fri Nov 28 14:06:02 SAST 2014

Rice fails to allay US lawmakers' concerns on Libya

Sapa-AFP | 28 November, 2012 08:27
US ambassador to the United Nations (UN) Susan Rice speaks with the media. File photo.
Image by: ALLISON JOYCE / REUTERS

US envoy to the UN Susan Rice Tuesday failed to quell a row with Republican lawmakers over the attack on a US mission in Libya that may damage her hopes of being the next secretary of state.

After hour-long talks, the lawmakers dug their heels in saying they were more troubled than ever over the US administration's explanation, led by Rice, about the September 11 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.

Senator John McCain, who has led the Republican onslaught against Rice, said they had had a "very candid discussion" but "we are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got and some that we didn't get."

He questioned "whether ambassador Rice was prepared or informed sufficiently in order to give the American people a correct depiction of the events that took place."

President Barack Obama has not yet named a replacement for Hillary Clinton, who is set to step down as the top US diplomat early next year, but Rice, the current US envoy to the United Nations, is known to have long coveted the job.

She is widely touted as the favorite to be nominated for the post as Obama reshuffles his cabinet heading into his second term in the White House, with veteran senator and foreign policy wonk John Kerry also in the running.

But Rice, who went on the Sunday talk shows five days after the Benghazi assault in which ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans died, has been accused by Republicans of misleading the public.

Several leading Republicans have said they would oppose Rice's nomination which needs to be approved by 60 out of the 100-strong Senate.

Republican senators Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte also attended Tuesday's meeting with Rice who was accompanied by acting CIA director Mike Morell, and fired off an angry riposte afterwards.

"Before anybody could make an intelligent decision about promoting someone involved in Benghazi, we need to do a lot more," said Graham.

"All I can tell you, that the concerns I have are greater today than they were before. We're not even close to getting the basic answers," he added.

None of the senators said they heard anything to change their minds on Tuesday, and Ayotte said, "I would hold her nomination until I had additional answers to questions."

The meeting came after McCain appeared to have softened his stand on Rice, following a sharp rebuke from Obama during a press conference last week.

Asked on Sunday by Fox News if Rice could change his mind, McCain said: "Sure. She can. I'd give everyone the benefit of explaining their position and the actions that they took. I'd be glad to have the opportunity."

Rice broke her silence on the row last week, saying she had been the victim of "unfounded" Republican attacks and saying she would "look forward to having the opportunity at the appropriate time to discuss" the row with McCain.

During her round of the Sunday political talk Rice had said it was the "best assessment" of the US government that the attack was not pre-planned.

She said the assault appeared to have started from a "spontaneous" reaction by protesters angry at an amateur anti-Muslim video made on American soil, as had been the case in an earlier storming that day of the US embassy in Cairo.

The administration has since admitted the attack had been carried out by militants linked to al Qaeda, and State Department and FBI probes are currently under way to find out what happened.

Rice, who has had close links to Obama since his 2008 White House campaign, appeared to be largely absolved of blame when the office of the Director of National Intelligence confirmed the terms "al Qaeda" and "terrorism" had been removed from the "talking points" brief she was given.

In his first press conference after being re-elected, Obama rushed to Rice's defense, accusing the Republicans of an "outrageous" attempt to "besmirch her reputation" and challenging them to go after him instead.

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