Tillerson outlines plan for long-term US military role in Syria

Tillerson outlines plan for long-term US military role in Syria
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Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonTrump cannot blame policy of separating children on Obama North Korea looked to set up communications back channel through Kushner: report North America wins 2026 bid to host World Cup after lobbying from Trump MORE on Wednesday outlined a new U.S. strategy in Syria, hinging on maintaining an indefinite military presence in the country with the goal of ousting the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and keeping militant groups at bay.

Speaking at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, Tillerson sought to make the case for an extended U.S. military role, backed by a United Nations-brokered political solution, in the war-torn country.

A U.S. withdrawal, he said, would likely have disastrous consequences.

"Total withdrawal would restore Assad and continue brutal treatment of his own people," Tillerson said.

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The secretary's remarks on Wednesday signaled his most explicit endorsement yet for long-term U.S. military presence in the country, which he said would aim to crush the remnants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group while taking a stand against increasingly aggressive overtures by Iran. 

The comments marked an aggressive stand against Assad's government, which Tillerson said was standing in the way of a lasting peace in Syria. 

“Assad’s regime is corrupt, and his methods of governance and economic development have increasingly excluded certain ethnic and religious groups,” Tillerson said. “Such oppression cannot persist forever.”

The U.S. goals in the region, Tillerson said, are aimed at ensuring a lasting defeat of ISIS and Al Qaeda, creating the conditions for Syrian refugees to return to the country, curbing Iranian influence in the region and holding U.N.-supervised elections aimed at securing new leadership in Damascus.

Tillerson's plan also placed heavy emphasis on the U.N.-backed Geneva process aimed at resolving the civil war in Syria that has displaced millions and destroyed much of the country since 2011. 

In a question-and-answer session with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice after his remarks, Tillerson also discussed President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN analyst Kirsten Powers: Melania's jacket should read 'Let them eat cake' CNN's Cuomo confronts Lewandowski over 'womp womp' remark Sessions says FBI agent Peter Strzok no longer has his security clearance MORE's use of Twitter. He said that, because he does not have any social media accounts, he has aides deliver printed copies of the president's tweets.

Those tweets, he said, are not intended to set priorities, but provide key information for advancing the Trump administration's foreign policy agenda. 

"I had to get used to it early on, because it was very unconventional for all of us," Tillerson said. "But I take it and I say, 'OK, this is information, we know what our objectives are, he didn't change any of them. This is just his way of wanting to communicate on a subject.'"

Tillerson also held open the possibility of U.S. talks with North Korea, saying that the country's leader, Kim Jong Un, "knows how to reach" him. 

"He knows how to reach me if he wants to talk," Tillerson said. He added that the U.S. is "not going to chase him."