U.S. downplays terror role in Libya riot

Sept. 16, 2012 at 1:47 PM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 16 (UPI) -- A top U.S. diplomat said Sunday there was no evidence to suggest the protest that led to the sacking of a U.S. consulate in Libya was part of a terrorist plot.

Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the preliminary investigation into the deadly demonstration in Benghazi found that armed extremists took advantage of the uproar in the streets.

"It seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons, weapons that as you know in -- in the wake of the revolution in Libya ... are quite common and accessible," Rice said on ABC's "This Week. "And it then evolved from there."

What evolved was a breaching of the consulate perimeter and the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The incident appeared to spawn additional anti-American protests around the Arab world and election-year sparring between Republican and Democratic leaders of the Obama administration's actions in the region.

Rice said on CNN's "State of the Union" the attack should not be viewed from the United States as typical of Libya. "I have been to Libya and walked the streets of Benghazi myself," she said. "Despite what we saw in that horrific incident where some mob was hijacked ultimately by a handful of extremists, the United States is extremely popular. The outpouring of sympathy and support for Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues from the government, from people is evidence of that."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said CBS' "Face the Nation" the administration was naïve to think the Benghazi violence was not the work of al-Qaida or other violent extremists. "Most people don't bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons to a demonstration," McCain said. "That was an act of terror. For anyone to disagree with that fundamental fact I think is really ignoring the facts."

McCain said he did not dispute the assumption the United States was popular among most Libyans, but he said those that did not share that sentiment were being emboldened by a seeming weakness from the United States. "It was Osama bin Laden who said when people see the strong horse and the weak horse, people like the strong horse," McCain said. "Right now, the United States is the weak horse."

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said a seeming U.S. disengagement was also emboldening Iran into pressing forward with developing nuclear weapons. He said the United States needed to stop being preoccupied with the election year and step up to the plate to head off a potential crisis.

"I think you should have a red line communicated to Iran," Netanyahu said. "I know that people value flexibility. I think that's important. But I think at this late stage of the game, I think Iran needs to see clarity."

Rice responded the United States had indeed drawn a red line in the sand on Iran and that President Obama had not discounted bringing the U.S. military into the equation. "All options remain on the table," she said on "Fox News Sunday. "The president has been very clear about that and that includes the military option. This is not a policy of containment, it's a policy to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon."

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said on NBC's "Meet the Press" the Obama administration was contributing to the problem with its rush to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan and the wide berth it was giving the "Arab Spring" movement. "What he is doing by that is telling our allies they can't trust us and he's also telling unaligned that the U.S. is not a reliable ally," said King.

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