Rice fails to convince Republicans

 28 Nov 2012 - 1:31

Sen John McCain (R-AZ) speaks to reporters after meeting with US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, yesterday. 

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

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

During the talk shows, Rice, using talking points provided by the CIA, said it was the government’s “best assessment” that the assault appeared to have started from a “spontaneous” reaction by protesters angry at an amateur anti-Muslim video made on American soil.

In a statement after yesterday’s meeting, Rice admitted for the first time that the intelligence community talking points “were incorrect in a key respect: there was no protest or demonstration in Benghazi.”

“While, we certainly wish that we had had perfect information just days after the terrorist attack, as is often the case, the intelligence assessment has evolved,” she said. Rice insisted however that “neither I nor anyone else in the administration intended to mislead the American people at any stage in this process.”

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 yesterday’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.”

State Department and FBI probes are currently under way to find out what happened in Benghazi, with the investigation ordered by Clinton due to report its findings some time in December. Rice, who has had close links to Obama since his 2008 White House campaign, appeared to be largely absolved of any 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.