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Susan Rice makes nice with Senator John McCain

Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador, sought to make peace today with her most famous congressional detractor, Senator John McCain (R-Ar), who recently promised to do all in his power to "block" Rice from being confirmed by the Senate as President Barack Obama‘s next secretary of state. McCain has excoriated Rice for charactering the September ...

Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador, sought to make peace today with her most famous congressional detractor, Senator John McCain (R-Ar), who recently promised to do all in his power to "block" Rice from being confirmed by the Senate as President Barack Obama‘s next secretary of state. McCain has excoriated Rice for charactering the September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, which led to the murder of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other American nationals, as likely being motivated as a spontaneous response to the broadcast of an anti-Muslim video.

In response to a reporter’s question, Rice said "I have great respect for Senator McCain and his service to our country. I always have, and I always will. 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." Rice also defended her account of what happened in Benghazi, saying: "I relied solely and squarely on the information provided to me by the intelligence community. I made clear that the information was preliminary and that our investigations would give us the definitive
answers."

Let’s forget for a moment, as David Wiegel noted in Slate, that McCain and other Rice critics, including Lindsey Graham (R-SC), may not have the 40 votes required to filibuster Rice’s nomination. But Rice appeared eager to smooth over a prickly relationship with a high profile politician who, while perhaps incapable of blocking her nomination, has the ability to produce headlines. As Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank recalled, Rice has history with McCain. In the 2008 election campaign, Rice, then serving as Obama’s foreign policy advisor, portrayed McCain’s policies in Iraq as "reckless" and ridiculed the former prisoner of war for "strolling around the market in a flak jacket" during a visit to Iraq.

Here’s an excerpt from Rice’s latest remarks at the United Nations today on the Benghazi controversy.

Reporter: Thank you very much. Ambassador Rice, would you explain your view of the controversy concerning your comments about Benghazi? And have-is Senator McCain fair in what he has said?

Ambassador Rice: Well, Pam, let me begin with the obvious. 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 attack on Benghazi-on our facilities in Benghazi-was obviously a significant piece of this.

When discussing the attacks against our facilities in Benghazi, I relied solely and squarely on the information provided to me by the intelligence community. I made clear that the information was preliminary and that our investigations would give us the definitive answers.  Everyone, particularly the intelligence community, has worked in good faith to provide the best assessment based on the information available. You know the FBI and the State Department’s Accountability Review Board are conducting investigations as we speak, and they will look into all aspects of this heinous terrorist attack to provide what will become the definitive accounting of what occurred.

Let me just end by saying, I knew Chris Stevens. I worked closely with him and had the privilege of doing so as we tried together as a government to free the Libyan people from the tyranny of Qadhafi. He was a valued colleague, and his loss and that of his three colleagues is a massive tragedy for all of us who serve in the US government and for all the American people. None of us will rest, none of us will be satisfied until we have the answers and the terrorists responsible for this attack are brought to justice.

And, Pam, let me just say-you asked about Senator McCain. Let me be very clear. I have great respect for Senator McCain and his service to our country. I always have, and I always will. 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.

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. @columlynch

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