According to a report published by Foreign Policy on Monday, three informed diplomatic sources reported that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at a special meeting at the State Department last week that the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is now in the hands of Russia and that the priority of the administration of US President Donald Trump in Syria is focused on defeating ISIS.
About three months ago, Tillerson insisted that Assad would have to leave power because of his use of chemical weapons against his own people. However, these new statements crystallize the new US policy toward the fate of Assad, which has puzzled observers since Trump took over Washington’s final position on the Syrian regime.
Tillerson’s assertion to Guterres reflects the growing desire of the Trump administration to allow Russia to sit on the driver’s seat in the Syrian crisis temporarily, to focus on defeating ISIS.
According to Diplomatic sources, and during his meeting with Guterres, Tillerson stated that the US military action against Assad’s forces in recent months is aimed at achieving limited tactical objectives, including deterring any future attacks with chemical weapons, and protecting US-backed forces battling a pro-Western organization in Syria rather than weaken the Assad government or support the opposition.
For his part, a State Department official declined to comment on Tillerson’s private discussion with Guterres, but stressed that the United States remains “committed to the Geneva process” and supports “a credible political process that could resolve the future of Syria.” In the end, “this process, we believe, will lead to a decision on Assad’s status,” adding “the Syrian people must determine the political future of their country through a political process,” the Foreign Policy report wrote.
The report by Foreign Policy said that Tillerson’s position suggests that the Syrian regime, backed by Russia and Iran, is emerging as the potential political victor in the country’s six-year civil war. It also represents a new retreat from the UN-brokered 2012 Geneva Agreement signed by Russia, the United States and other major powers. The statement calls for a transitional government of the regime and the opposition.
According to the administration of former US President Barack Obama and other Western allies, the Geneva statement is supposed to result in Assad leaving power, although the Obama administration eased its demands of Assad stepping down during the last year of the administration.
The talk of Washington giving Russia the right to decide on Assad’s future on the eve of President Trump’s first meeting next week with President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, comes as the Trump administration seeks to repair relations with the Kremlin.