Excerpted from USA TODAY: Things aren’t exactly warming up between the Obama administration and Vladimir Putin, even as President Obama arrived in St. Petersburg for the G-20 summit.
Putin called Obama Secretary of State John Kerry a liar over Kerry’s testimony this week before Congress.
The question may be al-Qaeda’s influence on the Syrian rebels, an issue Kerry has downplayed.
Speaking to his human rights council Wednesday, Putin said, “This was very unpleasant and surprising for me. We talk to them (the Americans), and we assume they are decent people, but he is lying and he knows that he is lying. This is sad.”
Putin has criticized Obama administration claims that Bashar Assad’s government attacked the rebels with chemical weapons.
Last month, Obama canceled a summit meeting with Putin after a series of U.S.-Russian disputes, including Russia’s decision to grant asylum to National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.
As for the new flap over Kerry’s testimony, the Associated Press reported:
“It was unclear exactly what Putin was referencing, but Kerry was asked Tuesday while testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee if the Syrian opposition had become more infiltrated by al-Qaeda.
“Kerry responded that that was ‘basically incorrect’ and that the opposition has ‘increasingly become more defined by its moderation.’ …
“In testimony Wednesday, Kerry said he didn’t agree that ‘a majority (of the opposition) are al-Qaeda and the bad guys.’ Extremists amount to 15 to 25% of the opposition, he said, including al-Nusra and many other groups that are ‘fighting each other, even now.'”
Asked about Putin’s comments, National Security Council spokesman Ben Rhodes said, “Well, we certainly would side with Secretary Kerry in that back-and-forth.”
State Dept. spokeswoman Jen Psaki called Putin’s comment “preposterous” and said Kerry is a decorated combat veteran who has had more than words aimed at him, according to the Associated Press.