A key member of the US Senate on Wednesday raised the 1998 Kenya embassy bombing as a point of concern regarding the suitability of a potential candidate to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.
Susan Rice, currently the US ambassador to the United Nations, is widely viewed as President Obama’s preferred choice for the post that Mrs Clinton plans to leave in the coming weeks.
Ambassador Rice has been sharply criticised by some Republicans for her initial public claims that the September killing of the US envoy to Libya was the result of a spontaneous protest rather than a planned terrorist act.
And on Wednesday Senator Susan Collins broadened the Republican attack on Ambassador Rice to include questions about her role in ensuring the security of the US embassy in Nairobi prior to the 1998 bombing.
Noting that Ambassador Rice was serving at that time as the State Department’s top Africa official, Senator Collins suggested that Ms Rice “had to be aware of the general threat assessment and of the ambassador’s repeated requests for more security.”
Prudence Bushnell, then the US envoy to Nairobi, said following the attack that killed 212 Kenyans and 12 Americans that she had warned the State Department of the embassy’s vulnerability to bombs and had urged improvements in the building’s defences.
Recounting her meeting with Ambassador Rice on Wednesday, Senator Collins told reporters: “"I asked Ambassador Rice what her role was. She said that she would have to refresh her memory but that she was not involved directly in turning down the request. But surely, given her position as assistant secretary for African affairs, she had to have been aware."
The senator added, “What troubles me so much is the Benghazi [Libya] attack in many ways echoes the attacks on those embassies in 1998, when Susan Rice was head of the African region for our State Department.”
Some commentators are suggesting that the strong scepticism expressed by a pivotal Republican senator could lead President Obama to rethink his apparent intention of nominating Ambassador Rice to become the top US diplomat.
A president’s nomination of a prospective cabinet member is subject to US Senate confirmation.