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A Raging Fight Exists over Syria Policy within the Administration

Jan. 19, 2018 (EIRNS)—Secretary of State Rex Tillerson demonstrated the fierce division within the Trump Administration over how to proceed in Syria now that ISIS is largely defeated. Tillerson presented an extremely provocative speech on Syria at the Hoover Institution on Jan. 17, then said quite contradictory things to the press on the flight back to Washington. This is not the first time that Tillerson's formal speeches reflect the hard- line position of some in the Administration, followed by a far more reasonable policy expressed in his unscripted statements to the press. The speech at Hoover presented a factually-false picture of Syria and its history, blaming the problems in Syria over the past 50 years entirely on the Assad family, calling them vile dictators, who oppress and kill their people. He even claimed that Bashar al-Assad was "covertly backing" al-Qaeda, and "abetting" ISIS by "turning a blind eye" to their growth. This is absurd.

Tillerson announced that U.S. forces will not leave Syria for an "indefinite" period, which is clearly illegal under both U.S. and international law. But he claimed this is only to fight ISIS remnants, so as not to allow a resurgence as happened when U.S. forces were pulled out of Iraq.

He also said the U.S. and its partners "will not provide international reconstruction assistance to any area under control of the Assad regime," and called on all "stakeholders" to do the same, which is also absurd, since Russia and China, through the "win-win" policy of the New Silk Road, are already engaged in reconstruction and will expand it.

He also made clear that the U.S. believes that Assad must go, and that only a "post-Assad leadership" would function as a viable state. But he moderated that by stating clearly that the conflict in Syria would be resolved "through a UN-led political process prescribed in UNSC Resolution 2254," which of course does not call for Assad to step down, but for the Syrian people to choose their own government. He also said that, while the U.S. hoped for Assad's departure,

"This process will take time, and we urge patience in the departure of Assad and the establishment of new leadership. Responsible change may not come as immediate as some hope for, but rather through an incremental process of constitutional reform, UN-supervised elections—but that change will come."

Then, on the plane home, he made some very different remarks. Asked about Russia, he said that,

"in terms of the Syrian end stage, we have had direct conversations with our Russian counterparts about what we want to see in the end, and we are very well aligned. We seek a whole and unified Syria. Notwithstanding the Russians from time to time alleging that we're trying to divide Syria, we are not. We want a whole and unified Syria. We want a Syria that's stable, that's free of terrorism, and Russia has that same objective."

As to whether the U.S. will engage in "regime change" military policies, Tillerson said: "No, we've been very clear that we're not there to in any way engage with the regime. We're not there to engage with Iran. We're there to defeat ISIS."

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