Shift on Syria could lead to progress of Geneva talks

Apr 05,2017 – JORDAN TIMES – Michael Jansen

The Trump administration blamed Damascus and its allies Moscow and Tehran for Tuesday’s deadly gas attack on insurgent-held Idlib province but seems to be sticking to decisions on the US posture on the six-year Syrian war that could lead to progress in the next round of intra-Syrian talks in Geneva.

At the end of last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Syria’s President Bashar Assad’s fate “will be decided by the Syrian people”. By this, he meant rather than external powers. 

Tillerson’s statement reversed the regime change policy adopted by former president Barack Obama in August 2011, when he called on Assad to “step aside” due to his crackdown on Arab Spring-driven protests, which developed into full-scale warfare.

Although softening the US stand on Assad from time to time, Obama never gave up the objective of topping him, and Obama behaved accordingly.

The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, reiterated Tillerson’s line when she said the US will no longer focus on “getting Assad out”, but will focus on defeating Daesh.

She attempted to roll back on this statement when she said Syrians do not want Assad to remain in power and argued he should not stand for re-election. However, she is not the decider in the confused and conflicted Trump administration.

Earlier, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer had confirmed the new approach by stating: “There is a political reality that we have to accept. We lost a lot of opportunity [during] the last administration, with respect to Assad… it’s now up to the Syrian people.” 

After Tuesday’s deadly attack he stated once again that Assad’s rule is a “political reality” and “there is no fundamental option of regime change”.

This is the line adopted by Russia and Assad, who said once there is a political settlement, he would stand for election if this is the wish of the Syrian people.

Tullerson is due in Moscow next week.

It is significant that Tillerson announced a policy shift in Ankara following a meeting with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusolglu, making it clear to Turkey that it should wind down its campaign to oust Assad.


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