Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Sunday that last week’s deadly attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya was a spontaneous reaction to an Internet video offensive to Muslims and not a premeditated response to U.S. foreign policy in the Arab world.
Her comments contradict Libyan President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf, who said Sunday he believed the attack was premeditated.
Mrs. Rice, who spoke on several Sunday news talk shows, said the assault that killed U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans wasn’t tied to the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. Rather, she said it began as a copycat rally in response to an earlier demonstration outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, protesting a YouTube film mocking the Islamic Prophet Muhammad.
The White House last week launched an investigation into the matter. But Mrs. Rice said that evidence so far portrays a spontaneous rally in Benghazi, Libya, that quickly “spun out of control.”
“We don’t see at this point signs this was a coordinated plan, premeditated attack.”
But Mr. Magariaf told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that “the way these perpetrators acted and moved … and their choosing the specific date for this so-called demonstration … leaves us with no doubt that this was preplanned — predetermined.”
He also suggested al Qaeda may have been involved.
“Definitely, it was planned by foreigners, by people who entered the country a few months ago, and they were planning this criminal act since their arrival,” Mr. Magariaf said.
Mr. Magariaf added that while the security situation in Libya “is difficult,” he said there is “no specific particular concern for danger for Americans or any other foreigners.”
“We don’t know what are the real intentions of these perpetrators, how they would react,” he said.
Still, the Libyan president said he couldn’t guarantee the safety of U.S. intelligence officials in his country investigating the attack.
“Maybe it is better for them to stay [out of Libya] for a little while, for a little while until we do what we have to do ourselves,” he told CBS. “But, again, we’ll be needful for their presence to help further investigation.”
Mrs. Rice denied that hatred against the United States is on the upswing in Libya, saying the Obama administration has made “substantial improvements” in its relations with the Muslim world.
“The United States is extremely popular in Libya, and the outpouring of sympathy and support for Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues from the government, from people, is evidence of that,” she said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
But Rep. Mike Rogers, the chairman of House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee, said that U.S. intelligence officials are “only moderately confident” the consulate attack was spontaneous.
The Michigan Republican told “Fox News Sunday” the “military style” of the attack, which he said included “indirect fire coordinated with direct fire,” suggests a level of planning.
“The way that the attack took place, I have serious questions,” said Mr. Rogers, a former FBI agent. “And then it was on 9/11 and there is other information, classified information, that we have that just makes you stop for a minute and pause.”
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, also said he is skeptical that violent attack in Libya wasn’t planned.
“Most people don’t bring rocket-propelled grenades and heavy weapons to demonstrations. That was an act of terror,” Mr. McCain said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday. “For anyone to disagree with that fundamental fact I think is really ignoring the facts.”
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter T. King said Sunday that the president’s foreign policy approach had been “confusing,” “apologetic” and “misguided.”
“From the day he started his apology tour back in 2009 where he was, no matter what people say, apologizing for America, somehow suggesting that we’ve been anti-Islam until he became the president,” the New York Republican said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Mr. King also took the president to task for announcing he won’t meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his during a U.S. visit later this month, saying it “sends terrible signals.”
Mr. Netanyahu denied he was snubbed by the president, saying the lack of a meeting was due to scheduling — not political or personal — issues.
But the prime minister, while making the rounds on the Sunday talk shows, pressed the administration to take a more aggressive stance against the development of the Iranian nuclear program.
“We cannot delegate the job of stopping Iran if all else fails to someone else” than the United States, Mr. Netanyahu said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “The danger of not acting in time is much greater because Iran with nuclear weapons would mean that the kind of fanaticism that you see storming your embassies would have a nuclear weapon.”
• David Eldridge contributed to this article.