Secretary of State John F. Kerry showed little patience Wednesday with lawmakers who continue to demand a better accounting from the Obama administration for its statements and actions surrounding last September’s terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya.
“I do not want to spend the next year coming up here talking to you about Benghazi,” Kerry said in his first congressional appearance as secretary. “If there’s something that needs to be put on the table, I will work with you.”
“Let’s put this behind us,” Kerry told one of several Republican members of the House Foreign Relations Committee who pressed him to personally investigate why the administration initially described the attack that killed four U.S. officials as a “spontaneous demonstration” that got out of hand.
“We’ve got serious, important, big current developments that we need to be debating” on a range of other issues, Kerry said.
Seven months after the attack, “members of Congress are frustrated. Hundreds want a select committee” to investigate, said Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.). “I hear comments all the time: ‘Why haven’t we captured anybody that did these things in Benghazi?’ ”
The FBI, which is investigating the attack, has reported no progress. But Kerry said without elaboration that investigators “have identified people, and they’re building a case.” He said that the State Department had taken action on all 24 recommendations by a department-named board that independently reviewed the Benghazi incident.
Beyond the testy exchanges on Benghazi, Kerry maintained an easy back-and-forth with lawmakers, recalling shared problem-solving with many of them during his days as a senator representing Massachusetts and showing close familiarity with a wide range of subjects.
He assured the committee that the administration has no plans to yield to threats from North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. During his recent trip to that region, Kerry said, he “made it clear that we’re not going on the same old road. We’re not going to reward them and come to the table with some new food deal” to try to persuade the North Koreans to back off.
Kerry also asked for congressional patience with what he said is a small window of opportunity to begin negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. “In my meetings on both sides, I have found a seriousness of purpose, a commitment to explore how we would actually get to a negotiation . . . I ask you to simply give us some time . . . a year and a half, two years.”
His greatest difficulty so far at the State Department, Kerry said, has been filling senior staff positions. He blamed the problem primarily on delays in the White House vetting process. “I’ve got some folks I suggested in February . . . who are still waiting,” he said. “I hope within a very short span of time you’re going to see those slots filled.
On why there has been no permanent inspector general at the State Department for more than five years, Chairman Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.) asked “if you could talk to the president about this.”
“I don’t need to talk to the president,” Kerry replied. “We’re going to get this done.”