Tillerson, Haley signal shift in US position on Syria’s Assad

UPDATE — 4/1, 12:28 p.m. EDT:  One day following UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s admission the White House will no longer demand Syrian President Bashar al-Assad leave power as a precondition for a resolution to the Syrian civil war, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham blasted the policy change.

Calling the policy shift “deeply disturbing,” McCain and Graham said the reversal will only empower the Islamic State (ISIS) and other enemies of the U.S.

The White House remained committed to the decision and sought to back Haley and Tillerson.  On Friday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters revamping part of Syria policy was based on realities and the greater importance of crushing ISIS.

 

America’s top diplomat and its representative in the UN have announced the U.S. will no longer insist on the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a condition for a peaceful settlement to the Syrian civil war, signaling an unexpected turn in foreign policy.

In separate press briefings on Thursday, both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, stated the U.S. will not demand that Assad resign.

Speaking in a joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevut Cavusoglu, Tillerson was asked if Assad would remain or if it was in U.S. interest for the Syrian strongman give up control in Damascus, Tillerson replied:

“I think the . . . longer term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.”

Hours later, when addressing reporters at the U.S. Mission to the UN, Haley seconded Tillerson’s comments and expanded on U.S. policy objectives as the Trump administration determines alternatives to resolve Syria’s six-year civil war.

“You pick and choose your battles.  And when we’re looking at this it’s about changing up priorities and our priority is no longer to sit and focus on getting Assad out,” Haley relayed to journalists in New York.

“Our priority is to really look at how do we get things done? Who do we need to work with to really make a difference for the people in Syria.  We can’t necessarily focus on Assad the way the previous administration maybe did. Do we think he’s a hindrance? Yes.  Are we going to sit there and focus on getting him out? No.” 

A dramatic departure from long-standing American policy in the Middle East, and an even larger departure from a U.S. commitment to “nation building” in the region, the policy reversal appears to be in step with Russia, which has repeatedly demanded Assad’s fate be decided by Syrian citizens.

In power since the 2000 death of his father, Hafez al-Assad, the younger Assad barely survived an early 2011 uprising which immediately plunged Syria into civil war and, with the rise of ISIS, later drove Syria into wholesale chaos.

Assad’s future, long a wedge issue between Washington and the Moscow, has hampered cooperation between the two nations as both sought unconnected plans to achieve the same goal.

Assad has since clung to office only with the assistance of the Kremlin, which began cooperating militarily with Damascus in late 2015.  Backed by Russian air power, the situation in Syria has slowly reversed Assad’s fortunes amid calls from the U.S. that he step down and seek asylum in the Middle East or Russia.

 

[CNSNews.com] [RT America] [Reuters] [Photo courtesy Sputnik News]