Kerry met with the bipartisan group on the sidelines of a security
conference in Munich, Germany, during the weekend.
Included in the group were senior Republican lawmakers John McCain
and Lindsey Graham, who favor a more muscular U.S. policy to stop
the bloodshed in Syria, and Democrats Chris Murphy and Sheldon
McCain and Graham told reporters that Kerry said Syrian President
Bashar al-Assad was failing to uphold a promise to give up chemical
weapons and peace talks in Geneva to put in place a Syrian
transitional government were not succeeding, according to The Daily
Citing Graham's account, the report said Kerry acknowledged that the
chemical weapons plan is being slow rolled, the Russians continue to
supply arms and that the U.S. strategy is going to have to change.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, who was present during the
meeting with the senators in Munich, said on Monday that Kerry did
not say U.S. policy on Syria was failing.
"At no point did he, during the meeting, did Secretary Kerry raise
lethal assistance for the opposition," Psaki told her daily
briefing. "At no point did he state what, I think, was quoted, that
the process has failed."
She added: "The secretary said during the meeting, as he said
publicly — as we all have said publicly — that of course we need to
keep considering what more we can do, what more we can do to put
pressure on, what more we can do on the humanitarian front."
Psaki said the administration had acknowledged more was needed to
ease Syria's humanitarian crisis.
"No one in the administration thinks we're doing enough until the
humanitarian crisis has been solved, and the civil war has ended,"
Psaki said. "As you all know, there are ongoing discussion within
the administration about what steps to take, what we need to do,"
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said the comments from
McCain and Graham were "a case of members projecting what they want
to hear and not stating the facts of what was discussed."
Asked whether Obama believed that the current U.S. policy on Syria
was the right one, Carney responded: "Absolutely."
"There is no other path ultimately for Syria that does not include
or is not driven by a negotiated political settlement," Carney
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Whitehouse and Murphy, the two Democrats at the meeting, said in a
joint statement that they were surprised to read the Republicans'
accounts of Kerry's assessment.
"The characterizations reported on today do not reflect the
conversation that we heard," they said. "Neither of us recall the
Secretary saying the policy of the administration in Syria was
failing, nor proposing new lethal assistance for Syrian opposition
An estimated 130,000 people have been killed during Syria's nearly
three-year-old war, with around 250,000 trapped by fighting and in
need of humanitarian aid.
U.N.-sponsored peace talks between the government and opposition
groups, which have been supported by Washington and Moscow, ended on
Friday in Geneva with no progress toward ending the civil war. The
two sides are meant to resume the next round on February 10.
Meanwhile, the United States accused Damascus last week of dragging
its feet on eliminating its chemical stash and asked Russia to
increase pressure on Assad to speed up the operation.
Assad's agreement to give up the chemical weapons helped avert
potential U.S. air strikes, but delays in shipping them out of the
country have caused many in the West to suspect Syria is stalling.
In an interview with Reuters on Monday, Russian Deputy Foreign
Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the delays were due to a difficult
security situation and logistical issues, and Assad was not to
As America's top diplomat, Kerry has been the most vocal American
figure on Syria, working closely with his Russian counterpart Sergei
Lavrov to bring Syria's warring sides together for talks, and easing
concerns among Gulf allies that the U.S. is doing enough on Syria.
(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Patricia Zengerle;
editing by Ken Wills)
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