Tillerson Moves Away From US Demand That Assad Must Be Ousted From Syria
“These are not easy decisions.”
In its search for a viable solution to end the conflict in Syria, the United States is no longer insisting upon the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated Thursday.
Tillerson’s position represents a 180-degree change from that of the Obama administration, which since 2011 had insisted any plan for Syria’s future exclude Assad.
Tillerson, at a meeting with Turkish officials and in response to a direct question about Assad’s fate, said times have changed.
“I think the status and the longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people,” Tillerson said.
On Thursday, Tillerson was asked about the ability of the U.S. and Turkey to “overcome your differences … and … move forward concretely in Syria in the fight to retake Raqqa.”
Tillerson said the U.S. and Turkey are allies.
“Well, again, I think on the question of how to carry forward with the defeat of Daesh/ISIS in Syria, let there be no mistake, just so we can be clear, there is no space between Turkey and the United States in our commitment to defeat Daesh, to defeat ISIS,” the secretary of state said.
“Not just in Syria and Iraq, but as members of the greater coalition to defeat Daesh, anywhere Daesh shows its face on planet Earth, they will be confronted by the coalition to defeat them on the battlefield, as well as in the cyberspace and in the social media space,” he said.
Tillerson said meeting with Turkish officials was the way the two nations iron out differences in their approaches and philosophies as they consider their next steps.
“They are difficult options, let me be very frank,” Tillerson said. “These are not easy decisions. They are difficult choices that have to be made. So this has been very good, the conversations today were very frank, very candid, and we will be taking those conversations away.
“I know the foreign minister and the president and the prime minister, they will consider all of the exchanges we had today, but ultimately, Turkey and the United States will stay together in the fight as part of the broader coalition to defeat Daesh.”
Obama said in 2011, “For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.”
Russia, which entered the Syrian conflict last year, has been supportive of Assad’s efforts to maintain power.
Mark Toner, acting state department spokesman, said earlier this month the administration views Assad as “a brutal man who has led his country into this morass” who could not be “an acceptable leader to all of the Syrian people.”
“That said, it’s up for the Syrian people — that means opposition, moderate opposition — working with … some representation on the part of the regime to try to forge a political transition,” Toner said.