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Kerry calls for restraint in criticisms of Libya attack response

WASHINGTON — Senator John F. Kerry, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, is calling on his colleagues to dial down the political mudslinging over the recent terrorist attacks in Libya and allow the independent investigation to proceed.

“I am deeply disturbed by efforts to find politics instead of finding facts in this debate,” Kerry said in a statement late Friday, urging his colleagues to “take a deep breath” about the attack that killed four American diplomats as the official State Department investigation gets underway.

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He specifically cited calls by some in the Republican Party for Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, to resign over accusations that the Obama administration has not been forthcoming about the details of the attack, which officials now say was linked to Al Qaeda and not a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Muslim film clip.

On CNN Friday, Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, accused Rice of “a failure of foreign policy message and leadership” and “a misstatement of facts.”

“I believe she should resign,” he said.

Republican presidential nomittee Mitt Romney has also criticized the Obama administration over the incident, accusing the White House and State Department of playing down the terorist link,.

“I think it’s pretty clear that they haven’t wanted to level with the American people,” Romney told Fox News Channel this week. “We expect candor from the president and transparency.”

The Obama administration maintains that it has only recently been able to confirm terrorist links to the attack on the US consulate, where the US ambassador, Chris Stevens, and three others were killed in an assault by well-armed militants on September 11. Within hours of the first reports of the Benghazi attack US intelligence officials said they were investigating the possibility of a well planned terror attack due to the seeming sophistication of the assailants, who engaged US and Libyan security forces in a four-hour battle with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.

Kerry late Friday came to Rice’s defense, calling her “a remarkable public servant...for whom the liberation of the Libyan people has been a personal issue and a public mission.”

Kerry added that “we need to drop the politics and pull together and bring the killers of Chris Stevens and our fallen heroes to justice.”

The Foreign Relations panel is nevertheless demanding more answers from the Obama administration about the details of the Libya attack and other recent violent demonstrations against US diplomatic outposts in the Middle East believed to be set off by the amateur film that denigrated the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

All 19 members of Kerry’s committee on Friday urged the State Department in a letter to to expand the scope of the official probe, which is being overseen by longtime diplomat Thomas Pickering, who has worked for both Democratic and Republican administrations.

“Please expand the accounting of the attacks against U.S. missions in Egypt, Libya and Yemen beginning on Sept. 11, 2012, to include attacks that took place at any U.S. missions from Sept. 11-13, 2012,” the committee member wrote.

The senators also requested that the investigation assess whether security was adequate at the US consulate in Benghazi, provide more information on the role of the host nations in protecting US diplomats, and the extend to which the host nations shared intelligence with American authorities.

Kerry in his statement also re-iterated his support for the nascent Libyan government and said the United States need to “stand with the Libyan government, empowering them to push their country along on a path toward a functioning democracy.”

Bender can be reached at bender@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeBender

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