WASHINGTON -- Susan Rice, the embattled UN ambassador, abruptly withdrew from consideration to be the next secretary of state Thursday after an ugly standoff with Republican senators who declared they would vigorously oppose her nomination.

The move elevates Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as the likely choice to be the nation's next top diplomat when Hillary Rodham Clinton departs soon.

President Barack Obama accepted Rice's decision with a shot at Republicans.

"While I deeply regret the unfair and misleading attacks on Susan Rice in recent weeks, her decision demonstrates the strength of her character," he said.

Rice withdrew her name in a letter to the president, saying she was convinced the confirmation process would be "lengthy, disruptive and costly -- to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities."

"That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country," Rice wrote.

Her chances were damaged after her Sept. 16 appearances on Sunday morning TV shows defending the administration's handling of the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Based on unclassified talking points supplied by the U.S. intelligence community, she described the assault as a spontaneous protest against an anti-Muslim video that was "hijacked" by extremists. The attack has since been described as the work of terrorists.

With Clinton expected to depart from the State Department in Obama's second term, Rice was seen as a leading contender for the post, along with Kerry, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Moments after news broke of Rice's withdrawal, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that Kerry "would be a popular choice with the Senate."

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Rice came under fire from several Republican senators, led by John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. During a brief hallway encounter at Rockefeller Center in New York Thursday, Rice declined to respond to questions from Politico about McCain's role her in withdrawal.

"I respect Ambassador Rice's decision. President Obama has many talented people to choose from to serve as our next Secretary of State," Graham said in a statement.