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.
Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Memo: Powell ended up on losing side of GOP fight A pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics Virginia race looms as dark cloud over Biden's agenda 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 GrahamA pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics Republicans' mantra should have been 'Stop the Spread' Senators preview bill to stop tech giants from prioritizing their own products 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.”