Senior Republicans opposed to Susan Rice becoming the next secretary of state softened their tone on Sunday, with one suggesting that he could change his mind if the UN ambassador explained her much-discussed comments on the Benghazi attack of 11 September.
Senator John McCain had been among those gearing up for a showdown in Washington over the issue, with a series of opponents to President Barack Obama suggesting they would block Rice's nomination as Hillary Clinton's successor in the state department, should it be made.
Republicans have claimed that Rice misled the public in the aftermath of a deadly assault on the US consulate in Benghazi, in which four Americans, including ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed. Rice suggested in television interviews that intelligence information pointed towards a spontaneous attack, prompted by protest over a US-made anti-Muslim film. It has since been accepted that the attack on the consulate was a terrorist assault.
However, in evidence given to a congressional committee, the former CIA chief David Petraeus is believed to have said that a report handed to Rice on the day after the attack neglected to mention the terrorist link.
Moreover, a CBS report has claimed that it was the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that omitted the words "al-Qaida" and "terrorism" from the notes which were handed to Rice prior to her TV appearances. If true, it would appear to absolve the diplomat of any blame.
Rice has consistently hit out at suggestions that she deliberately misled the public, and Obama has defended his presumed state department pick, saying that attacks on her character were "outrageous". But McCain and other senior Republicans continued to criticise Rice, vowing to oppose attempts to put her into a role that would require Senate confirmation. Their position now looks increasingly clumsy, especially at a time, after its election defeat, when the Republican Party has been characterised as being anti-women.
Asked on Fox News Sunday if he could change his mind on Rice becoming secretary of state, McCain said: "Sure. She can. I'd give everyone the benefit of explaining their position and the actions that they took. I'd be glad to have the opportunity to discuss these issues with her."
Another senior Senate Republican, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said on Sunday that Rice had a "lot of questions" to answer, should she reach a Senate confirmation hearing as secretary of state. But he declined to repeat an assertion that Rice's remarks on Benghazi disqualified her from the post.
Peter King, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives homeland security committee, has also criticised Rice. Asked on Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press about the Benghazi attack, he said "on this she was wrong". He did, however, add that Rice had done an "effective job" at the United Nations.
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