WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. State Department dismissed as "preposterous" Russian President Vladimir Putin's statement that Secretary of State John Kerry lied to Congress about al Qaeda's role in Syria.
"Secretary Kerry is, as you all know, a decorated combat veteran," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, referring to Kerry's service during the Vietnam War. "He's had ... more than words aimed at him.
"So he's not losing sleep after such a preposterous comment that was based on an inaccurate quote and was completely mischaracterized," she added.
On Wednesday, Putin accused Kerry of lying about the militant group al Qaeda's role in the Syrian conflict.
"They lie beautifully, of course. I saw debates in Congress. A congressman asks Mr Kerry: 'Is al Qaeda there?' He says: 'No, I am telling you responsibly that it is not,'" Putin said at a meeting of his human rights council in the Kremlin.
"Al Qaeda units are the main military echelon, and they know this," he said, referring to the United States. "It was unpleasant and surprising for me - we talk to them, we proceed from the assumption that they are decent people. But he is lying and knows he is lying. It's sad."
Putin did not give any more details.
In an exchange with a senator, Kerry was asked whether it was "basically true" that the Syrian opposition had "become more infiltrated by al Qaeda over time. Kerry said: "No, that is actually basically not true. It's basically incorrect."
(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Doina Chiacu)