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Susan Rice at the UN in 2012. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Former top diplomats who worked with Susan Rice have signed a letter rebutting a recent New York Times column in which Bret Stephens referred to her as “inept” and a “sycophant to despots.”

Why it matters: Rice has long been a target of conservative criticism, but many former colleagues have lined up to offer support during her return to the national spotlight as a potential running mate to Joe Biden. She's now seen as a leading contender for a top job, perhaps secretary of state, in a potential Biden administration.

Background: Stephens, a conservative columnist, claimed that Rice made serious blunders and “played politics with human rights” as assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the Clinton administration (1997-2001).

In an open letter shared with Axios, 47 diplomats — most of them former ambassadors to African countries — paint a different picture.

  • They describe her as a tireless diplomat, strong leader and “the catalyst for a foreign policy that sought to put Africa on equal footing with the rest of the world.”
  • “Her record is being examined with a microscope and a telescope, at times refracting the light so completely that original facts become completely obscured,” they write.
  • The signatories include career diplomats as well as political appointees from both parties.

The big picture: Rice was just 32 years old when she became assistant secretary of state. She later served as Barack Obama's ambassador to the UN and thereafter as national security adviser.

  • She was seen as the top contender to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, but withdrew from consideration after becoming the public face of the Obama administration's initial response to the 2012 Benghazi attacks.

Read the letter:

Go deeper: Biden's foreign policy doctrine

Go deeper

Biden announces another wave of key White House hires

Photo: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President-elect Biden's transition team on Friday named four new top administration hires, including Cathy Russell as director of the White House Office of Presidential Personnel.

Why it matters: Biden and incoming First Lady Jill Biden are turning to more of their own tested allies to guide both policy and outreach.

SoCalGas agrees to $1.8 billion settlement for 2015 gas blowout

An evacuee with a Save Porter Ranch sign outside Southern California Gas Company's Aliso Canyon gate in Porter Ranch in January 2016 as the gas leak continued. Photos: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Southern California Gas Company and its parent company announced Monday they've agreed to pay up to $1.8 billion in settlement claims over the 2015 Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility blowout.

Why it matters: Some 100,000 tons of methane, ethane and toxic chemicals poured into the air for 112 days, forcing over 8,000 families to evacuate from their Los Angeles-area homes and sickening thousands of others with headaches, nausea and nosebleeds, per the L.A. Times.

Updated 3 hours ago - World

North Korea fires short-range missile to sea, slams "hostile" U.S. policy

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Photo: API/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said Tuesday that North Korea's military had fired a short-range missile toward its eastern sea, per AP.

Why it matters: North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations defended the latest launch in remarks to the UN General Assembly, demanding the U.S. and South Korea end their "hostile policy" against the country.

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