Tillerson: ‘No role’ for Assad in governing Syria

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday said the U.S. is considering an “appropriate response” to the Syrian government’s apparent use of chemical weapons and that he sees “no role” in the country for President Bashar Assad.

“The process by which Assad would leave is something that requires an international community effort both to first defeat ISIS within Syria, to stabilize the Syrian country to avoid further civil war and then to work collectively with our partners around the world through a political process that would lead to Assad leaving,” Tillerson said at a news conference in Palm Beach, Fla. 

“Assad’s role in the future is uncertain, clearly, and with the acts that he has taken, it would seem that there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people,” he said.

On Tuesday, a chemical attack in northern Syria killed more than 70 civilians, including several children.

Eyewitnesses and aid workers say the strike was carried out by Syrian government forces.

President Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday that “something should happen” to Assad in retaliation for the chemical attack, though he declined to say what role the U.S. would play.

“He’s there, and I guess he’s running things, so I guess something should happen,” Trump said.

The president would not confirm reports on Thursday that the U.S. was weighing a military response in Syria and that the Pentagon was presenting possible options to Trump on military retaliation. 

“I don’t want to say what I’m going to be doing with respect to Syria,” he added.

Tillerson’s remarks on Thursday marked a change of tone for the secretary of State, who said last week that the “longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.”

That sentiment was echoed by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who told reporters last week that removing Assad from power would no longer be a “priority” of the U.S.

Haley, however, offered a sweeping condemnation of the use of chemical weapons on Wednesday during an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, in which she tore into Russia for its continued support of the Assad government and called for swift action against the Syrian government.

“We don’t yet know everything about yesterday’s attack. But there are many things we do know,” she said. “We know that yesterday’s attacks bears all the hallmarks of the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. We know that Assad has used these weapons against the Syrian people before.”

In the wake of the chemical attack on Tuesday, Trump issued a statement condemning the strike and placing blame on the Obama administration for not previously taking action in Syria.

But on Wednesday, the president toughened his rhetoric.

“I will tell you that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me, big impact,” Trump said in the White House Rose Garden. 

“My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much. … You’re now talking about a whole different level.”

Updated at 4 p.m.

Tags Bashar al-Assad Rex Tillerson
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