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At AIPAC, John McCain blames Obama’s ‘feckless’ foreign policy for Ukraine crisis

Sen. John McCain sharply condemned President Obama on Monday, blasting the administration’s foreign policy as “feckless” and partially responsible for the mounting crisis over the advance of Russian forces into Ukraine.

In a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, McCain (R-Ariz.) said the “blatant act” by Russian President Vladi­mir Putin “cannot stand,” even as he acknowledged that the United States does not have a realistic military option to force Russian troops to withdrawal. Instead, McCain called on the administration to enact sweeping economic sanctions against the country, including a freeze on financial assets of its prominent business leaders and preventing them from entering the United States.

White House officials said over the weekend they are considering such sanctions.

“Why do we care? Because this is the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy in which nobody believes in America’s strength anymore,” McCain said to the annual gathering of Jewish leaders in Washington.

McCain’s remarks came on a day when Obama was scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. The president is expected to press Netanyahu to accept a U.S.-sponsored framework for peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Secretary of State John F. Kerry also is scheduled to address AIPAC on Monday evening.

As tensions rise between Russia and Ukraine, what can President Obama do? The Post's Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung weigh in. (Jeff Simon/The Washington Post)

Shortly after McCain appeared at AIPAC, the White House announced that Vice President Biden spoke by phone with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Monday and urged Russia to withdrawal its troops and support the deployment of international monitors to Ukraine.

McCain, who lost to Obama in the 2008 presidential race, accused the president of underestimating Putin’s goals in the region.

“The president of the United States believes the Cold War is over; fine — it’s over. But Putin doesn’t believe it’s over,” McCain said, citing Russian interference in Moldova and Georgia, as well as its support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime.

“It’s an outrage,” McCain said. He blasted Obama for failing to take military action against Syria last fall, when the president said he would support airstrikes against the Assad regime for crossing a “red line” over the use of chemical weapons, then deferred to Congress, which opposed military action.

McCain cited remarks Obama made at a summit in South Korea in 2012, in which the president was caught on an open microphone telling Medvedev that he would have more flexibility on policy toward Russia after his reelection that fall.

“Tell Vladimir I’ll be more flexible when I’m reelected?” McCain said in exasperation. Turning to the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran over its nuclear weapons program, he added that Congress must approve strict new economic sanctions in case the White House’s strategy fails.

“My argument to you is: Do you believe, in light of the events of the last five years, that the Iranian mullahs think we’re serious?” McCain said. “I don’t think so.”

David Nakamura covers the White House. He has previously covered sports, education and city government and reported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.

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