White House accepts the ‘Assad reality’

U.S. abandons the goal of regime change, marking a departure from Obama-era

Published - April 01, 2017 09:04 pm IST - Washington

U.S. President Donald Trump has abandoned the goal of pressing President Bashar Al-Assad of Syria to leave power, marking a sharp departure from the policy that guided the Obama administration for more than five years, the White House said on Friday.

“With respect to Assad, there is a political reality that we have to accept,” said Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary.

“The United States has profound priorities in Syria and Iraq, and we’ve made it clear that counterterrorism, particularly the defeat of ISIS, is foremost among those priorities,” he added.

Focus on defeating IS

In a sense, Mr. Spicer’s comments — and similar comments Thursday by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Nikki R. Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations — have merely made explicit an assumption that has guided the Trump administration’s policy toward the region in recent months.

But the comments have also stirred criticism, including from some Republican lawmakers, who assert that Syria will continue to be a magnet for extremists as long as Mr. Assad is in control of the country.

“Trying to fight ISIS while pretending that we can ignore the Syrian civil war that was its genesis and fuels it to this day is a recipe for more war, more terror, more refugees, and more instability,” Sen. John McCain (Rep.-Arizona), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on Thursday night.

During the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump had said that while he did not like Mr. Assad, he was glad the Syrian leader was “killing ISIS”.

Since taking office, however, Mr. Trump has shied away from forging a military alliance in Syria with Russia, let alone with Mr. Assad. Instead, the administration’s single-minded focus has been to help Syrian fighters oust the IS from the northern city of Raqqa.

Still, major questions loom, including which political authorities in Syria will control Raqqa after IS fighters are evicted and how the international community might establish safe zones. Another important question is whether it might be possible to negotiate a broader political accommodation for Syria; despite his gains, Mr. Assad lacks the military manpower to control the entire country. NYT

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