Washington: The US has said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was a “political reality” and asserted that the Trump administration’s top priority was defeating the Islamic State terror group in the war-torn country.
“With respect to Assad, there is a political reality that we have to accept in terms of where we are right now,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters at his daily news conference.
Spicer’s remarks came a day after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley indicated that removal of Assad no longer was a priority for the US.
“We lost a lot of opportunity in the last administration with respect to Assad. I think that our statement that both UN Ambassador Haley and Secretary of State Tillerson gave yesterday reflects the reality that it is now up to the Syrian people,” he said.
“We had an opportunity and we need to focus on now defeating ISIS. The US has profound priorities in Syria and Iraq, and we made it clear that counter-terrorism, particularly the defeat of ISIS, is foremost among those priorities,” Spicer said.
“That’s why our forces in the global coalition are partnering with local forces against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. I think there is a bit of political reality with respect to where we are now versus where we were the last administration in terms of there being a potential — there is not the opposition that existed last time and the opportunities that existed last time,” he said.
Syria would be one of the major topics of discussion when US President Donald Trump meets the leaders of Egypt on April 3 and Jordan on April 5 next week at the White House, senior administration officials said yesterday.
“Jordan is a key partner for the US in the region and we anticipate the two leaders will discuss a range of shared priorities, including efforts to defeat ISIS, how to end the conflict in Syria and advancing progress between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” a senior administration said.
Meanwhile, a top Republican Senator John McCain expressed his disappointment over the change in goal post of the Trump administration with regard to Syria.
“The suggestion that Assad can stay in power appears to be just as devoid of strategy as President Obama’s pronouncements that ‘Assad must go once again’, the US’ policy in Syria is being presented piecemeal in press statements without any definition of success, let alone a realistic plan to achieve it,” McCain said in a statement.
The administration’s statements in this regard, McCain warned, could lead America’s true allies and partners in the fight against ISIS to fear the worst: a Faustian bargain with Assad and Putin sealed with an empty promise of counter-terrorism cooperation.