He said Mr. Kerry "lied" at Senate hearings by claiming that military strike against Syria would not strengthen al-Qaeda in the region.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin upped the ante on Syria accusing Washington of “lying” about the likely fallout of a U.S. attack on the Middle East nation.

Mr. Putin said US Secretary of State John Kerry “lied” at Senate hearings on Tuesday by claiming that a military strike against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would not strengthen al-Qaeda in the region.

“They lie, plainly. I watched the Congressional debate. A congressman asked Mr. Kerry: ‘Is there any al-Qaeda [in Syria]? There are reports they may grow stronger.’ He [Kerry] replied: ‘No. I say with all responsibility: they are not there’,” Mr. Putin said at a meeting with the Kremlin Council on Human Rights on Wednesday.

The Russian President stressed that al-Qaeda had been at the forefront of the rebel groups fighting the government forces in Syria, and that the U.S. was well aware of that.

“The so-called Nusra, which is an al-Qaeda unit, is the principal combat unit [of the Syrian Opposition],” Mr. Putin said. “And they [Americans] know this. This was very unpleasant and surprising for me. We’ve been talking to them and we assumed they are decent people, but he is lying and he knows that he is lying. This is sad.”

Mr. Putin’s quote from the Senate debate was not very accurate, but it did capture the essence of the exchange between Senator Tom Udall, Democrat, and Mr. Kerry.

“By degrading him [Assad], you make these extremist forces stronger, do you not?” asked Sen. Udall.

“No, I don’t believe you do,” Mr. Kerry replied.

The Russian leader also lashed out at the very idea that the U.S. Congress could “authorise” a unilateral attack on a sovereign State.

“The Congress of no country can authorise such things, they are just sanctioning aggression, because everything that happens outside the framework of the U.N. Security Council is aggression, unless it is self-defence,” Mr. Putin said.

Within hours of Mr. Putin’s shot at Mr. Kerry, another member of the U.S. Administration was caught twisting facts.

Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel was asked where Syria’s chemical weapons came from. He said: “Well, the Russians supply them, others are supplying them with those chemical weapons. They make some themselves.”

Later the same day, the Pentagon pulled back Mr. Hagel’s words, explaining that the Secretary “was referring to the well-known conventional arms relationship between Syria and Russia.”

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