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US Ambassador Rice defends comments on Benghazi attack

 

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice is defending her early account of the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans in Benghazi, saying that her statements were made based on initial information from the intelligence community. 

Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has been under fire after she appeared on television five days after the Sept. 11 attacks and said in several interviews that the strikes on U.S. outposts were “spontaneous” and were sparked by outrage over an anti-Islamic video.

But three days later, National Counterterrorism Director Matthew Olsen acknowledged the Benghazi attacks were acts of terror and that Al Qaeda might have played a role.

"When discussing he attack against our facilities in Benghazi, I relied solely and squarely on the information provided to me by the intelligence community," Rice said Wednesday evening to reporters outside the U.N. Security Council.

"I made clear that the information was preliminary, and that our investigations would give us the definitive answers," she added. "As a senior U.S. diplomat, I agreed to a White House request to appear on the Sunday shows to talk about the full range of national security issues of the day, which at that time were primarily and particularly the protests that were enveloping and threatening many diplomatic facilities, American diplomatic facilities around the world, and Iran's nuclear program."

The focus has fallen on Rice because she is a longtime White House insider and is believed to be President Barack Obama's first choice to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is not expected to stay on during his second term.

On Monday, 97 House Republicans sent a letter to Obama indicating that they would oppose Rice as a potential nomination, saying her “misleading statements” following the fatal attacks have caused “irreparable damage to her credibility."

Obama defended Rice in a press conference last Wednesday, saying those like Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has been critical of Rice's comments, should "go after me."

Rice said she respects McCain, but says "some of the statements he's made about me have been unfounded, but I look forward to having the opportunity at the appropriate time to discuss all of this with him."

Her comments attributing the attacks to a mob enraged over an anti-Muslim video posted on YouTube were also widely denounced by Republicans during the U.S. presidential campaign. The attack came on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States, and her critics said it was clearly a terrorist attack aimed at the anniversary.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.