Kerry doesn't see Russia as 'existential threat,' says State Dept.

Kerry doesn't see Russia as 'existential threat,' says State Dept.
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Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryWarren taps longtime aide as 2020 campaign manager In Virginia, due process should count more than blind team support Trump will give State of Union to sea of opponents MORE “doesn’t agree” with the nominee to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, that Russia poses an existential threat to the U.S., a senior department official said Friday.

During his confirmation hearing on Thursday, Dunford told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that if they “want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I'd have to point to Russia. And if you look at their behavior, it's nothing short of alarming."

State Department spokesman Mark Toner acknowledged that Dunford is “expected to provide his views, his assessment on which nations or entities pose a threat to the United States. And that's his job.”

“But I would add that the secretary doesn't agree with the assessment that Russia is an existential threat to the United States, nor China, quite frankly,” he later added.

Russia last year annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and has been supporting separatist groups in the east of the country, rupturing relations with the international community.

Toner said U.S. officials have been “very frank” with Moscow on areas on disagreement, including “calling out Russia for its involvement in eastern Ukraine in terms of troops, in terms of command and control, in terms of heavy equipment.”

“Where I think I tried to specify the difference is the word ‘existential,’ ” Toner told reporters. “You know, certainly we have disagreements with Russia and its activities along or within the region, but we don't view it as an existential threat.”

He noted that the administration and the Kremlin still cooperate closely on certain international issues, including the Iran nuclear talks and the years-long civil war in Syria.

“I would just say what the secretary does consider an existential threat is the rapid growth of extremist groups like ISIL, particularly in ungoverned spaces,” added Toner, using another name for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

He said he was "not aware" of any Russian objections to Dunford's characterization.