US Senate backs plan to boost diplomatic security
US lawmakers have moved toward freeing up $1.1 billion to boost America's diplomatic security, just as new Secretary of State John Kerry vowed to work to improve safety at missions around the world.
The US Senate late Monday approved a State Department request to dip into unused funds that had been allocated for Iraq to upgrade US embassies in hotspots and provide more security staff.
The move comes in the wake of an internal review into the September 11 attack on the US mission in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi that saw the ambassador and three other Americans killed.
Critics lashed out at the State Department for "woefully inadequate" security at the outpost.
The measure, put forward by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, still has to pass the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. But State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the diplomatic service was "gratified" by the Senate move.
Kerry pledged Monday as he took up his new post at the helm of US diplomacy that he would be "focused on the security and safety of our people."
On his first day on the job, he also took time to tour the agency's diplomatic security service based in the Rosslyn area of Arlington, Virginia, where he toured the command center and was given a security briefing.
Nuland said the funds would be partly spent on financing 35 more Marine security guard detachments to help guard US embassies and missions, as well as building new facilities and improving places seen as vulnerable.
The State Department will also ask for a further $300 million for the current fiscal year to hire more diplomatic security agents, she said.