By Jeremy Herb
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) say Secretary of State John Kerry told a congressional delegation that the Obama administration’s Syria policy is failing and needs to change.
“He acknowledged that the chemical weapons is being slow-rolled, the Russians continue to supply arms [and] we are at a point now where we are going to have to change our strategy,” Graham said.
Graham said that Kerry “openly talked about supporting arming the rebels,” something the Obama administration has stopped over fears the arms will wind up the hands of al Qaeda-linked groups.
“He openly talked about forming a coalition against al-Qaeda, because it’s a direct threat,” Graham said.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki disputed Graham’s characterization of the meeting, saying Kerry did not speak about providing arms to the rebels.
“This is a case of members projecting what they want to hear and not stating the accurate facts of what was discussed,” Psaki said, according to the Post.
“No one in this administration thinks we’re doing enough until the humanitarian crisis has been solved and the civil war ended,” she said. “That is no different from the message Secretary Kerry conveyed during the private meeting.”
Kerry’s comments to the lawmakers in Munich came one day after he and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke to the security conference and defended U.S. foreign policy.
“I can’t think of a place in the world that we are retreating, not one,” Kerry said.
In Syria, however, the effort to eradicate the country's chemical weapons stockpiles has “seriously languished and stalled,” the Obama administration said last week.
The Munich conference also occurred after the Syrian “Geneva II” peace talks hit a rough patch. Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. envoy for Syria, said they had failed to make any progress, according to The Daily Beast.
At the congressional meeting, Kerry confirmed an assessment from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that al Qaeda affiliates in Syria want to attack the United States, McCain said.
“Our director of national intelligence said that these people in Syria are planning attacks against the United States,” McCain said. “Kerry confirmed that. ... Maybe those two disturbing facts about the results of the war in Syria could maybe help them think they ought to change their policy.”
McCain and Graham, two of the most hawkish Republicans in the Senate, have long pushed for a more aggressive strategy in Syria, calling for a no-fly zone and safe zones to help the rebels fight against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.
One Democratic House member in the room told Bloomberg that Kerry was not arguing for a new policy, but was reacting to new developments, including the threat of an attack on U.S. soil.
"I would not characterize what he said as a plea for a new policy, but that, in light of recent, dramatic developments, the administration is exploring possible new directions," the lawmaker said. "He wasn't arguing so much that the administration needs a new policy but that the administration is considering a range of options based on recent developments."