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Tillerson Signals Another Major Policy U-Turn in Syria

Has the US finally given up on regime change in Syria?

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

A new report published by Foreign Policy suggests that US-backed regime change in Syria is off the table—again. 

The details:

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres during a private State Department meeting last week that the fate of Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad now lies in the hands of Russia, and that the Trump administration’s priority is limited to defeating the Islamic State, according to three diplomatic sources familiar with the exchange.

If true, this would be the 100th time (rough approximation) that Washington has signaled a significant policy shift in Syria. 

Back in April, Tillerson said that he saw "no role" in Syria for Assad and that the Russian government should "consider carefully their continued support for the Assad regime." 

But also in April, Tillerson told ABC's George Stephanopoulos that the Trump administration is not seeking regime change in Syria and isn't changing its "military posture". 

The latest policy shift (again, if this heard-it-through-the-grapevine report is accurate) suggests that regime change by political means is no longer a priority for Washington. 

After Assad allegedly dumped barrels of Sarin on Idlib orphans, Tillerson stated that, "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.

In other words: Tillerson has stated previously that Assad's departure was necessary but should be carried out by political negotiations rather than by force. 

Now Tillerson is saying that Russia has final say on what happens to Assad. (A remarkable and highly presumptuous claim in its own right, but "so it goes".)

Is any of this believable?

Our guess is that Washington has correctly calculated that it no longer has the political or military capabilities to oust Assad. But that doesn't mean the US is preparing to pack up and leave once ISIS is expelled from Syria. Quite the contrary. 

For now, it appears that Assad Must Go—But Only If That's What Russia Wants.

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