White House: Fate of Assad up to Syrians

White House: Fate of Assad up to Syrians
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White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Friday that Syrian citizens should decide whether Syrian President Bashar Assad remains in office amid criticism over the Trump administration's openness to allowing the leader to stay put.

“With respect to Assad, there is a political reality that we have to accept in terms of where we are right now,” Spicer told reporters, adding that the U.S. needs to prioritize the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Spicer placed the blame on the Obama administration for a missed opportunity in ousting Assad.

“We lost a lot of opportunity in the last administration with respect to Assad,” he said.

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The comments are a departure from policies of past administration concerning Assad, a key ally of Russia. The Obama administration had for years asserted, along with many European leaders, that Assad should step aside after citizens began an armed rebellion against him.
 
The Trump administration has faced criticism after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said during a trip to Turkey on Thursday that the "longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people."
 
"Our priority is no longer to sit and focus on getting Assad out," United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley echoed in New York.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainJeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House panel debates articles of impeachment Budowsky: Would John McCain back impeachment? MORE, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, slammed the proposed U.S. shift on Syria, saying he was "deeply disturbed" by comments by the Trump administration officials Thursday.

"Their 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, U.S. policy in Syria is being presented piecemeal in press statements without any definition of success, let alone a realistic plan to achieve it," he said in a statement. 

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenators zero in on shadowy court at center of IG report Graham: People should be fired over surveillance report findings GOP, Trump campaign rip CNN for coverage of Horowitz hearing MORE (R-S.C.) also said it would be a "grave mistake" for the Trump administration to not focus on removing Assad, suggesting it would be "the biggest mistake since President Obama failed to act after drawing a red line against Assad’s use of chemical weapons."

“To suggest that Assad is an acceptable leader for the Syrian people is to ignore the wholesale slaughter of the Syrian people by the Assad regime. Leaving him in power is also a great reward for Russia and Iran," Graham said in a statement Thursday. 

“I hope these reports are not accurate, but if they are, the war in Syria will never really end as the Syrian people want Assad removed from power. Hundreds of thousands have died in the fight to accomplish exactly that goal," he added.

Spicer said Friday that comments from Tillerson and Haley "reflect the reality that it is now up to the Syrian people."

“We had an opportunity and we need to focus on now defeating ISIS," he said. 

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