US priority in Syria is to defeat ISIS, Assad’s fate in hands of Russia: official

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US President Donald Trump (R), Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (L). File photo

According to informed diplomatic sources, cited by Foreign Policy Magazine, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is now in the hands of Russia.

Tillerson also reportedly told Guterres that the priority of President Trump’s administrations was defeating ISIS. Tillerson’s assertion to Guterres reflects the growing desire of the Trump administration to let Russia sit in the driver’s seat.

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 Washington’s policy toward the fate of Assad, which has puzzled observers since Trump took office.

According to the diplomatic sources, Tillerson stated that recent US military action against Assad’s forces is aimed at achieving limited tactical objectives, including deterring any future attacks with chemical weapons and protecting US-backed forces.

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.”

The report by Foreign Policy indicates that the Syrian regime, backed by Russia and Iran, is emerging as the political victor in the country’s six-year-long civil war. It also represents American disengagement from the 2012 Geneva Agreement, which was brokered by the UN and signed by Russia, the United States and other major powers.

The Geneva Agreement called for the creation of a transitional government, composed of the regime and opposition. This proposed government would then administer new elections.

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 up on this demand during its windup.

Talk of Washington giving Russia the right to decide on Assad’s future comes on the eve of President Trump’s first meeting with President Vladimir Putin. The Trump administration seeks to repair relations with the Kremlin which were frosty during the final year of the Obama administration.

Agencies and ARA Staff

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