Susan Rice
Susan RiceReuters

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, on Thursday asked President Barack Obama not to pick her as his next secretary of state, after becoming a lightning rod for Republicans over the raid on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

Rice’s role as a top defender of the administration over the attack which killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya on September 11, drew her into a furious row with Republicans, AFP reported.

"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," Rice said in a letter to Obama quoted by AFP.

"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," she wrote.

Rice's decision came amid strengthening indications that Obama is making progress in naming his new national security team, as sources said that ex-Republican senator Chuck Hagel could become secretary of defense.

It also signaled that the White House, locked in a showdown over taxes and spending with Republicans on Capitol Hill, concluded the political capital that would have been needed to confirm Rice could be better spent elsewhere.

In her letter to Obama, Rice decried the fact that the position of secretary of state had become politicized and an "irresponsible distraction" from the multiple serious issues facing the United States.

Obama accepted Rice's decision, first reported by NBC, in a conversation with the UN envoy on Thursday and issued a statement condemning what he termed the "unfair and misleading attacks" on her.

"Her decision demonstrates the strength of her character, and an admirable commitment to rise above the politics of the moment to put our national interests first," Obama said, according to AFP.

"The American people can be proud to have a public servant of her caliber and character representing our country," Obama added, saying that Rice would remain as UN ambassador with a place in his cabinet.

Obama praised her as "an extraordinarily capable, patriotic, and passionate public servant."

Republicans pounced on Rice after she said on September 16 that the Benghazi attack was a "spontaneous" reaction to an anti-Muslim video, using CIA talking points she now admits were wrong.

Terrorists linked to Al-Qaeda are now blamed for the attack and Republicans charge the White House misled the U.S. public as it did not want to own up to a terror attack weeks before the presidential election.

Senator John McCain, the Republican nominee who lost out to Obama in the 2008 presidential election, was one of Rice's fiercest critics.

"Senator McCain thanks Ambassador Rice for her service to the country and wishes her well. He will continue to seek all of the facts surrounding the attack on our consulate in Benghazi that killed four brave Americans," read a statement from his office quoted by AFP.

Senator Lindsey Graham, another of Rice's chief Republican critics, said on Twitter that Obama had "many talented people to choose from to serve as our next secretary of state."