Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United
Nations, has withdrawn from consideration to become secretary of
State, the White House said Thursday.
The career diplomat was long considered a top contender for the job, but her hopes of succeeding Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had dimmed amid criticism from Republican lawmakers over her early, faulty explanation of the deadly Benghazi attack in September.
"Today, I spoke to Ambassador Susan Rice, and accepted her decision to remove her name from consideration for secretary of state," Obama said in a statement.
The president said he regretted "unfair and misleading attacks" against Rice over the Libya issue and said her decision to withdraw demonstrated her desire to put US interests first.
"I am grateful that Susan will continue to serve as our ambassador at the United Nations and a key member of my cabinet and national security team, carrying her work forward on all of these and other issues," Obama said.
"I have every confidence that Susan has limitless capability to serve our country now and in the years to come, and know that I will continue to rely on her as an advisor and friend."
He praised Rice for securing international sanctions at the UN against Iran and North Korea, as well as for her work on Libya, South Sudan and the Middle East.
In a letter to Obama obtained by NBC News, Rice wrote: "If nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly - to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities."
"That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country. ... Therefore, I respectfully request that you no longer consider my candidacy at this time."
As recently as last week, Obama had defended Rice, whom he is known to consider a personal friend, but refused to say whom he would nominate to replace Clinton.
Rice had become the face of the Obama administration on television after the Benghazi attacks, saying the deaths were the result of a demonstration against an anti-Muslim internet video and not a terrorist act.
The Obama administration has since said the incident was a terrorist attack with no demonstration in Benghazi related to the video.
She met last month with Republican senators in an effort to defuse their criticism, but seemed to lose support after talks with even moderates whose support she would have needed for nomination.
Clinton has said she plans to leave the State Department around Obama's January 20 presidential inauguration. Democrat Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts is considered another leading candidate for the post.
Speculation about Obama's picks to serve in his second term has been rife in recent weeks.
Former senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, was the top pick to be secretary of defence, two sources familiar with the matter told Bloomberg news earlier Wednesday. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has said he does not intend to stay on at the Pentagon.
White House spokesman Jay Carney praised Hagel, but declined to weigh in on personnel matters.
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