Kerry challenges Congress on diplomats' security

May 20, 2013 - 11:36 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State John Kerry challenged Congress on Monday to go beyond its investigations of embassy security and help ensure that U.S. embassies and consulates abroad have the resources they need for appropriate security. His comments come as the Republicans continue to press for answers about the Obama administration's handling of last year's deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya.

Speaking to State Department trainees at the Foreign Service Institute, Kerry said the administration would spare no expense or effort to protect American diplomats overseas. However, in a sign of frustration with congressional Republicans who have suggested the administration is trying to cover up alleged malfeasance related to the Sept. 11, 2012, Benghazi attack, he said lawmakers must play a part in mitigating the risks that diplomats take.

"We need to hold all of our elected officials accountable for making these efforts a priority," he said. "And that includes the Congress. This is a Congress that reminds us all the time they that are a co-equal branch of the federal government. And they should, because they are. But that means Congress needs to play a role on the world stage as well; not just investigating, but leading."

Congress, Kerry said, must provide "the resources and the support and the investments that make the risks that we take today worthwhile."

His comments follow a similar call that President Barack Obama made last week when he complained that persistent Republican-led investigations into Benghazi were a "sideshow" and urged lawmakers to provide more money to strengthen security at U.S. diplomatic missions around the world. The State Department is seeking about $1.4 billion for increased security; the money would come primarily from funds that haven't been spent in Iraq.

Since the Benghazi attack, Democrats have complained that Republicans cut $300 million from the Obama administration's budget request of $2.6 billion for diplomatic and embassy security in 2012. Republicans have said such allegations are unfair.

Kerry said Monday the administration is fully committed to implementing, and expanding upon, the recommendations of an independent review board that investigated the Benghazi attack and sharply criticized the State Department for not providing adequate security at the missions. U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in the attack.

But Kerry pointed out that the risks to American officials abroad are not new and will not go away.

"The dangers of diplomacy are not unique to this moment in time: our diplomatic missions didn't become dangerous that night in Benghazi," he said, noting that most of the 244 diplomats honored on plaques at the State Department were killed in the line of duty long before Benghazi.

Kerry said the risks can never be eliminated, but they can and will be mitigated because America's national security interests demand diplomatic outreach even in the most dangerous places.

"If we are going to bring light to the world, we have to go where it is dark," he said.