UN's Rice defends comments on Benghazi attack

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UNITED NATIONS -- Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, rejected criticism of her remarks about the deadly attack on an American diplomatic mission in Libya, saying they were based on initial intelligence community assessments.

Rice, favored to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state, has kept a low profile since being criticized by Republicans for her televised description of the Sept. 11 attack as developing from a spontaneous protest against an anti-Islamic video.

The Obama administration later revised its early assessment and called the assault an organized terrorist attack.

"When discussing the attacks against our facilities in Benghazi, I relied solely and squarely on the information provided to me by the intelligence community," Rice told reporters yesterday in Manhattan. "I made clear that the information was preliminary."

Republican lawmakers have said Rice misled the public by saying on five Sunday television talk shows on Sept. 16 that the attack in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans unfolded from a demonstration that was "hijacked" by militants.

Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have threatened to block Rice's possible nomination to replace Clinton. McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called Rice's comments "not very bright" and vowed to oppose her if Obama nominates her.

Rice on Thursday responded to McCain's criticism for the first time.

"I do think that 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," she said. "I have great respect for Senator McCain and his service to our country. I always have, and I always will."

Obama has since come out strongly in defense of Rice, a close confidante since his 2008 run for president, when she was his foreign policy adviser.

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