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White House denies John Kerry rumors

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough strongly defended Secretary of State John Kerry, taking issue with recent articles suggestingPresident Barack Obama has lost confidence in his chief diplomat.

“That picture of Secretary Kerry is not what I witness,” McDonough said in an on-the-record telephone conversation Thursday. He said Kerry and Obama meet regularly and when one is traveling they talk on the phone. He described their relationship as “very solid.”

He went to on to cite what he said were five important, Kerry-led achievements: negotiating, with the Russians, the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile; building a coalition, especially with Arab countries, to take on Islamic State; spearheading a unity government in Afghanistan and avoiding what seemed imminent chaos; playing an “instrumental” role in forming a new multi-ethnic government in Iraq; and playing a lead role in the ongoing efforts to strike a deal with Iranover its nuclear capacity.

McDonough also dismissed persistent talks of a destructive rift between Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan Rice. “Sometime they have debates,” he noted, but insisted they have a collaborative and good relationship. “I wanted to get ahold of Susan the other night and found her [having dinner] at the secretary's house.”

Among the stories was a New York Times piece that said anonymous White House officials joke that Kerry is like the astronaut played by Sandra Bullock in the movie Gravity, that he's “somersaulting through space, untethered from the White House.”

McDonough said he’d never heard that analogy, but defended Kerry's frequent travels. “The outcome of those travels is what he's accomplished.”

Albert Hunt can be contacted at