Ben Rhodes, one of President Obama’s top national security advisers, reportedly told a group of Syrian-American activists that he was "not proud" of the administration’s policy toward Syria.
The Daily Beast, citing three individuals involved in the exchange with Rhodes, reported that he also excused the Obama administration from responsibility for the Syrian conflict, which has produced millions of refugees fleeing to Europe and the U.S. and, according to one estimate, killed 470,000 Syrians.
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"We aren’t proud of our Syria policy–but we don’t have any good options … nothing we could have done would have made things better," Rhodes reportedly told the activists at a gathering Wednesday.
"We’re not the ones killing Syrians. [President Bashar al-]Assad is the one killing people," Rhodes further stated, according to the report.
Obama has been criticized in the past for not acting militarily after Assad crossed his "red line" by using chemical weapons on the Syrian people in August 2013. The Syrian civil war has been waging for five years and has been complicated by the rise of ISIS in the region.
In a response to the Beast, National Security Council spokesman Ned Price defended Rhodes and disputed the report.
The spokesman said that Rhodes "in no way indicted or distanced himself from our Syria policy. He has consistently explained U.S. policy toward the conflict, which is what he did in this case (as evidenced by the other quotes). What is true is that he lamented the level of suffering the Syrian people have endured."
The comments could create problems for Rhodes, who has been under fire for the last week after a profile of him published in the New York Times Magazine indicated that he and the Obama administration had misled the American people on the nuclear deal with Iran by peddling a story about negotiations beginning after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s election in 2013. Informal negotiations, in reality, began in 2012.
Rhodes was also quoted as saying that he and others in the administration "created an echo chamber" in the nation’s capital through which to sell Obama’s deal with Iran.
After White House press secretary Josh Earnest dismissed the allegations of deception over the Iran deal as "unfounded," Rhodes was forced to respond to criticism in a Medium post earlier this week.
"We never made any secret of our interest in pursuing a nuclear deal with Iran," Rhodes wrote. "We pursued several diplomatic efforts with Iran during the President’s first term, and the fact that there were discreet channels of communication established with Iran in 2012 is something that we confirmed publicly. However, we did not have any serious prospect of reaching a nuclear deal until after the election of Hasan Rouhani in 2013."