Tillerson Says Destroying ISIS Still ‘First Priority’ In Syria

(PHOTO: REUTERS/Joe Skipper)

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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The destruction of ISIS is still the primary goal of U.S. policy in Syria, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday.

During an interview on “Face The Nation,” Tillerson told CBS’s John Dickerson that the U.S. and its allies must wipe out the ISIS presence in Syria and Iraq before addressing the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“By defeating ISIS and removing their caliphate from their control, we’ve now eliminated at least or minimized a particular threat not just to the United States, but to the whole stability in the region,” he said. “Once the ISIS threat has been reduced or eliminated, I think we can turn our attention directly to stabilizing the situation in Syria.”

U.S. policy in Syria was upended last week when President Donald Trump ordered a punitive missile strike on the al-Assad regime in response to its devastating chemical weapons attack on Syrian rebels. Tillerson said at the time that “steps are underway” to form an international coalition that would seek to remove al-Assad through some kind of negotiated settlement.

“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 at an April 6 news conference.

That announcement was a significant departure from the Trump administration’s stance leading up to the strike. Tillerson said during a trip to Turkey in late March that the “longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.”

At this time, the U.S. military has not changed its stance toward the Syrian regime, outside of the retaliatory strike in response al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Tillerson told Dickerson that the administration hopes to negotiate an end to the Syrian Civil War without having to resort to further military escalation. (RELATED: Trump Is Sending Tillerson To Moscow With A Surprisingly Strong Hand)

“Clearly, that requires the participation of the regime with the support of their allies,” he said, “And we’re hopeful that Russia will choose to play a constructive role in supporting ceasefires through their own Astana talks, but also, ultimately, through Geneva.”

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