Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, expressed deep frustration after Anne Patterson, the
assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, declined to
answer a question about strategy in a public setting.
"I have a problem with a generic answer to a generic question that I
can't believe is classified," Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said
during a committee hearing.
Heated exchanges during questioning of Patterson and Tom Countryman,
another assistant secretary of state, underscored the often deep
divide between Congress — both Republicans and President Barack
Obama's fellow Democrats — and the administration on foreign policy.
The emotional hearing came a day after Senate Democrats dropped from
a Ukraine aid bill reforms of the International Monetary Fund sought
by the Obama administration, saying they felt it was more important
to move the bill quickly.
Members of the Foreign Relations panel in particular are frustrated
by the administration's failure to do more in Syria, where 140,000
people have been killed, millions have become refugees and thousands
of foreign militant fighters have been trained as rebels have fought
to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
Senator Bob Corker, the committee's top Republican, called one
answer from Patterson "major, misleading baloney."
"I can't imagine you actually saying that in this setting. That
would indicate to people that we have a military strategy relative
to Syria, and that ... could not be further from the truth," the
Tennessee senator said.
Arizona Republican John McCain, a frequent critic of Obama's foreign
policy, called U.S. Syria policy "a colossal failure."
"The greatest nation in the world has sat by and watched this
genocide taking place," the senator said.
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The Foreign Relations Committee voted in May to authorize sending
military aid to the Syrian opposition and approved in September the
use of U.S. military force in the conflict.
But significant lethal aid has not yet been sent and the White
House, after resistance from other members of Congress, dropped
plans to bomb Syria after agreeing with Russia to destroy Assad's
chemical weapons cache.
Corker disputed an assertion from Countryman, who handles
nonproliferation issues, that the chemical weapons plan had been
"I disagree with you strongly. With respect, I think you're
delusional," Corker said.
The session ended after the committee requested a classified hearing
with testimony about what military action is being considered, what
actions are being taken and an update on the destruction of Assad's
"And if you can't do this, then let us know so none of us are
wasting our time," Menendez said.
(Editing by Jan Paschal)
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