Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday defended U.S. envoy to the United Nations Susan Rice from a storm of Republican criticism, saying she had been a "stalwart colleague" and helped shape important policies.
"Let me repeat what I have said many times... Susan Rice has done a great job as our U.N. ambassador," Clinton told reporters during a visit to Ireland.
"She has been a stalwart colleague in a lot of the tough decisions that we had to make and certainly with respect to defending our interests and our national security."
Rice had also "played an important role in what we've been able to accomplish in the past four years," Clinton added, pointing to U.N. sanctions which Rice helped fashion against Iran and North Korea.
Rice is one of the front-runners to succeed Clinton when she steps down early next year, but has been accused by Republicans of trying to mislead the American public over the September attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.
The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans were killed when militants stormed the consulate in the eastern Libyan city, in an attack which shocked the U.S. public.
Rice said on September 16 that the attack was a "spontaneous" reaction to an anti-Muslim video, using CIA talking points she now admits were wrong. Extremists linked to al-Qaida are now blamed for the attack.
"It's important to remember that what Susan said was based on the information that had been given to every senior official in our administration," Clinton insisted.
Clinton said Rice was simply trying to keep "the American people and Congress informed. That was her goal and that was her mission and she should not be criticized for doing exactly that."
Rumors are rife in Washington about Clinton's potential successor, with Rice and veteran Democratic Senator John Kerry the odds-on favorites to head up America's diplomacy.
But Rice's long-held hopes of getting the top job are now hostage to Washington power games as Republicans gun for the U.N. envoy.
Clinton said the decision on her replacement was up to President Barack Obama, and that she would "support whatever he decides".
However, she dodged a question on whether she would be prepared to stay on longer, saying only that she had promised Obama that she would do what she can to "expedite" a transition.
Clinton has also so far dismissed speculation that she will launch a new bid to be president in the 2016 elections, after narrowly missing her dream to be Democratic party candidate when she was defeated by Obama in 2008.
A Washington Post-ABC poll published Wednesday said 57 percent of Americans would support her if she ran for the White House in four years' time.
She also laughed off a suggestion that her husband, former president Bill Clinton, might be hoping to be named the next ambassador to Ireland.
"I would think that my husband would be here many times in the future, doing the work that he's been doing, without having to have the title of ambassador," she said.
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