USA No Longer Insists on Resignation of Assad
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres during a private State Department meeting last week that the fate of Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad now lies in the hands of Russia, and that the Trump administration’s priority is limited to defeating the Islamic State (outlawed in Russia), according to three diplomatic sources familiar with the exchange.
The remarks offer the latest stop on a bumpy U.S. policy ride that has left international observers with a case of diplomatic whiplash as they try to figure out whether the Trump administration will insist that Assad step down from power. Nearly three months ago, Tillerson had insisted that Assad would have to leave office because of his alleged use of chemical weapons.
Tillerson’s assurances to Guterres signaled the Trump administration’s increasing willingness to let Russia take the driver’s seat in Syria, throwing geopolitics to the wayside. Tillerson’s position reflects a recognition that Syria’s government, backed by Russia and Iran, is emerging as the likely political victor in the country’s six year long civil war.
The decision to cede ground to Russia on the question of Assad’s future comes on the eve of President Donald Trump’s first face-to-face meeting next week with President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany. It also comes at a time when the Trump administration is seeking to repair relations with the Kremlin despite a series of scandals that have plagued the White House since Trump’s election.
Tillerson said earlier this month that Trump tasked him with repairing the broken U.S.-Russia relationship. The secretary of state has also cautioned Congress that new sanctions against Russia for its alleged role in interfering in the U.S. election could undercut efforts to cooperate with Moscow on Syria.
"The President asked me to begin a re-engagement process with Russia to see if we can first stabilize that relationship so it does not deteriorate further", Tillerson said during a visit to New Zealand in early June.