GENEVA — U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday that Washington sees no future for President Bashar Assad in Syria’s government, insisting “the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end.”
Tillerson made the comments after what he called a “fruitful” discussion with U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, who is expected to reconvene U.N.-mediated peace Syrian talks in the the coming weeks in the wake of recent battlefield gains by Assad’s Russian-backed forces.
“The United States wants a whole and unified Syria with no role for Bashar Assad in the government,” Tillerson told reporters. “The reign of the Assad family is coming to an end, and the only issue is how that should be brought about.”
“We do not believe there is a future for the Assad regime, the Assad family.”
America’s top diplomat said that an exit of Assad should be done through the Geneva process led by de Mistura, but that such a departure was not a “prerequisite” for that process to start.
The comments came before de Mistura addressed the U.N. Security Council by videoconference on Thursday. He announced plans to reconvene the intra-Syrian talks on Nov. 28. It will be the eighth round of talks under his guidance since early 2016. Opposition delegations, which do not include the Islamic State group or other U.N.-designated terrorist groups, have never spoken face-to-face with Syrian government envoys under de Mistura’s mediation.
Tillerson also sought to play down any idea that the Syrian government’s advances might amount to a “triumph” for Iran, which has been a key backer of Assad.
“I see Iran as a hanger-on,” Tillerson said. “Iran has not been successful; the Russian government has been more successful. We have had success. I don’t think that Iran should be given credit for the defeat of ISIS in Syria.
Russia-backed Syrian government forces as well as U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led troops have recently significantly reduced territory controlled by IS across Syria. The U.S.-backed forces recently ousted IS from their so-called capital, Raqqa.
Tillerson met with de Mistura during a stop in Geneva on his way home from a trip to the Middle East and South Asia.
Officials said Tillerson had initially planned to meet with officials from the U.N. refugee and migration agencies and the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, but those meetings did not take place in his short visit in Geneva.