World

Republicans throw down gauntlet over Rice

Ewen MacAskill

Republican senators have opened the way for a new showdown with United States President Barack Obama.

UN Ambassador Susan Rice. (AFP)

This after an apparently disastrous meeting with United Nations ­ambassador Susan Rice that had been widely seen as an attempt to smooth her path to nomination as US secretary of state.

The meeting on Capitol Hill was expected to end in rapprochement after one of Rice's leading Senate critics, John McCain, stepped back from a bitter row over the September 11 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

But McCain and his colleagues emerged from the 90-minute private encounter to say they were "significantly troubled" by Rice's explanation of her earlier accounts of the attack on the US mission. Four Americans died in the attack, including the US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stephens.

Five days after the incident, the White House put Rice on weekend talk shows in the US to explain what had happened. Rice said the attack had occurred after a spontaneous protest against an anti-Muslim film that had been produced in the US. The White House later said the incident was a terrorist attack.

At the meeting with senators on Tuesday, Rice said her earlier version was based on "incorrect"  intelligence.

Obsessed
Rice, who is reported to be Obama's favoured choice to replace Hillary Clinton at the state department, insisted she had not intended to mislead the public. She told the senators that, when she said on television that al-Qaeda had been defeated, she meant that its core had been defeated.

McCain, who appeared to be even more irritated with Rice than before the meeting, was blunt. "We are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got and some that we didn't get. It is clear the information that [Rice] gave the American people was incorrect when she said it was a spontaneous demonstration triggered by a hateful video. It was not and there was compelling evidence at the time that that was certainly not the case."

Rice's television interviews, in which she played down the involvement of al-Qaeda, were at odds with the Central Intelligence Agency, which later said it was convinced from early on that an al-Qaeda- related group was behind the attack.

Republicans argue that Rice, with one eye on the forthcoming presidential election, wanted to diminish the alleged role of al-Qaeda because Obama had been claiming it had been defeated. But some leading Republican figures, including McCain, are still sore about how Democrats held up the appointment of John Bolton as United Nations ambassador for months in 2005. President George Bush eventually bypassed Congress to appoint him.

White House spokesperson Jay Carney accused Republicans of being  "obsessed" over what Rice had said. Carney said there were "no unanswered questions about Rice's appearance on the shows and the talking points that she used that were provided by the intelligence community".  – © Guardian News & Media 2012

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