Bloomberg: Tillerson Vows U.S. Military Will Stay in Syria18 January 2018 | 01:52 | FOCUS News Agency
In a speech at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution in California on Wednesday, Tillerson called for closer cooperation with Russia to avoid conflict in “de-escalation zones.” He also offered financial aid and diplomatic assistance in “liberated areas” to help rebuild parts of Syria shattered by almost seven years of civil war.
“Responsible change may not come as immediately as some hope for, but rather through an incremental process of constitutional reform and UN-supervised elections,” Tillerson said, adding that Assad’s eventual departure was inevitable. “Our military mission in Syria will remain conditions-based, and focused on ensuring ISIS cannot re-emerge.”
The speech offered the clearest articulation of the Trump administration’s determination to maintain a U.S. presence in Syria, where Assad has managed to consolidate his grip after Russia’s military intervention on his behalf in 2015. According to a Pentagon estimate in December, the U.S. has about 2,000 troops in Syria as well as a diplomatic presence in cities such as Kobani. Despite that, Washington has seen discussions over Syria’s future overtaken by a Russian-led effort that has largely sidelined Western powers.
Read a QuickTake on how Assad prevailed in Syria’s civil war
Contrary to the U.S. position, Russia has indicated Assad may stay in power and criticized the U.S. for seeking “regime change.” Moscow’s envoy to Syria last month said he saw no reason why Assad “shouldn’t or wouldn’t run for another presidential term.”
Nevertheless, Tillerson said the overarching goal for the U.S. is to make progress toward a vote in which Syrians at home and overseas would usher in a “post-Assad” government to rebuild.
Tillerson portrayed U.S. policy toward Syria as a break from former President Barack Obama’s approach. He called the U.S. military’s withdrawal from neighboring Iraq a mistake.
“We cannot repeat the mistake of 2011,” Tillerson said. “A premature departure from Iraq allowed al-Qaeda in Iraq to survive and eventually become ISIS.”
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