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State Department fires back over Putin claims Kerry 'lied' about Syria

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Sec. of State Kerry, left, and Russian President Putin.ap

The State Department and Russian President Vladimir Putin became embroiled in a heated war of words after Putin claimed Secretary of State John Kerry lied about the presence of Al Qaeda in Syria.

In a meeting with his council on human rights Wednesday, Putin claimed the main combat unit of rebels in Syria is a unit of Al Qaeda. He said Kerry knows this, but lied about it in Tuesday’s Senate hearing on the conflict.

“(He) lies openly, and he knows that he lies,” Putin said. “This is sad."

Putin was likely referring to an exchange between Kerry and Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson in which Johnson asked Kerry if the U.S. believed the once more Western-leaning opposition was becoming infiltrated by the terrorist group.

Kerry told Johnson that was “basically not true.”

“The opposition has increasingly become more defined by its moderation, more defined by the breadth of its membership and more defined by its adherence to some, you know, democratic process and to an all-inclusive, minority-protecting constitution, which will be broad-based and secular with respect to the future of Syria,” Kerry said. “And that's very critical.”

State department officials fired back at Putin Wednesday night.

“This is certainly not the first time we’ve seen a visceral response from President Putin,” they told Fox News. “Needless to say, the Secretary of State testified truthfully and accurately to the Congress.”

Russia is a staunch supporter of the Assad regime, and has resisted any military action against the government in Syria by the U.N. or Western powers.

President Obama will arrive Thursday in St. Petersburg, Russia for the summit of G-20 nations.

Fox News' James Rosen contributed to this report