John Kerry
John KerryReuters

United States Secretary of State John Kerry “doesn’t agree” with Gen. Joseph Dunford, the nominee to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that Russia poses an existential threat to America, a senior department official made clear Friday, according to The Hill.

During his confirmation hearing on Thursday, Dunford told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that if they “want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I'd have to point to Russia. And if you look at their behavior, it's nothing short of alarming."

Later on Thursday, State Department spokesman John Kirby was visibly flustered and ended up cutting off a reporter when asked whether the administration shared Dunford’s position.

A reporter asked Kirby if the State Department holds the same view as General Dunford and other top military officials who agree with him.

"I think everybody in the United States government shares the same sense of concern over the security challenges that Russia is representing, particularly on the European concerns,” Kirby said.

The reporter pressed the spokesperson, who continued to dodge the question before claiming he had already answered the question while ignoring the reporter's continued queries and calling on another journalist to ask a question.

On Friday, however, another State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, acknowledged that Dunford is “expected to provide his views, his assessment on which nations or entities pose a threat to the United States. And that's his job.”

“But I would add that the secretary doesn't agree with the assessment that Russia is an existential threat to the United States, nor China, quite frankly,” he later added, according to The Hill.

Russia last year annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and has been supporting separatist groups in the east of the country, rupturing relations with the international community.

Toner said U.S. officials have been “very frank” with Moscow on areas on disagreement, including “calling out Russia for its involvement in eastern Ukraine in terms of troops, in terms of command and control, in terms of heavy equipment.”

“Where I think I tried to specify the difference is the word ‘existential,’” Toner told reporters. “You know, certainly we have disagreements with Russia and its activities along or within the region, but we don't view it as an existential threat.”

Toner noted that the administration and the Kremlin still cooperate closely on certain international issues, including the Iran nuclear talks and the civil war in Syria.

“I would just say what the secretary does consider an existential threat is the rapid growth of extremist groups like ISIL, particularly in ungoverned spaces,” added Toner, using another name for the Islamic State group, according to The Hill.

He said he was "not aware" of any Russian objections to Dunford's characterization.

Dunford's assessment came after Congressman Mike Rogers (R-AL), a member of the House Committee on Armed Services and chairman of the subcommittee on strategic forces, said Wednesday that the Obama administration is "ignoring" Russia, which is currently the greatest threat it has been since the Soviet Union collapsed.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)