Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) made the comments on a plane ride back to the U.S. with reporters from The Washington Post, Bloomberg and The Daily Beast.
Here’s how Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg summed up the senators’ comments:
“According to Graham, Kerry gave the clear impression that Syria is slipping out of control. He said Kerry told the delegation that, ‘the al-Qaeda threat is real, it is getting out of hand.’ The secretary, he said, raised the threat of al-Qaeda unprompted. ‘He acknowledged that the chemical weapons [delivery] is being slow-rolled; the Russians continue to supply arms [and that] we are at a point now where we are going to have to change our strategy. He openly talked about supporting arming the rebels. He openly talked about forming a coalition against al-Qaeda because it’s a direct threat.’
“‘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,’ said one Democratic House member who was in the meeting. ‘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.'”
Goldberg writes that Kerry asked lawmakers what their constituents would think of greater involvement in Syria. He was told, they wouldn’t be happy about it.
The Daily Beast spoke to Jen Psaki, Kerry’s spokesperson. Psaki “did not dispute the overall tenor of the conversation,” but she said Kerry did not bring up the issue of arming rebels.
She explained to the publication:
“‘This is a case of members projecting what they want to hear and not stating the accurate facts of what was discussed,’ Psaki added. ‘It’s no secret that some members of Congress support this approach, but at no point during the meeting did Secretary Kerry raise lethal assistance for the opposition.’
“‘He was describing a range of options that the Administration has always had at its disposal, including more work within the structure of the international community, and engaging with Congress on their ideas is an important part of that process,’ Psaki continued. ‘While Secretary Kerry restated what we have said many times publicly about our concern about the growing threat of extremists, he did not draw a direct connection to the threat on the homeland or reference comments made by other Administration officials.'”
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