Tillerson: The United States Remains in Syria to Help Overthrow Bashar Assad

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"We should not be focusing on Syria", Trump said in October 2016.

"A total withdrawal of American personnel at this time would help [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad". He called President Assad a brutal murderer of his own people who can never provide long-term stability. "A stable, unified, and independent Syria ultimately requires post-Assad leadership in order to be successful".

If the USA were to withdraw, it would also "provide Iran the opportunity to further strengthen its position in Syria", Tillerson said.

"We will continue working with allies such as Turkey". With ISIS now beaten back into a small pocket of territory along the Iraq-Syria border, the United States has to address the reality that Iran's support for Mr Assad has given Teheran a vastly expanded reach, he said.

"The priority right now in Syria is to stop people being killed", he said, adding they are still being killed by the thousands.

First, ISIS and Al Qaida in Syria suffer an enduring defeat, do not present a threat to the homeland, and do not resurface in a new form; that Syria never again serves as a platform or safe haven for terrorists to organize, recruit, finance, train and carry out attacks on American citizens at home or overseas or against our allies.

He reiterated U.S. support for the UN-led process that envisions a unified and stable Syrian state without Assad in power and called on Russian Federation to use its influence with Assad's regime to reach that end.

He said the Trump administration's policy differs from the previous administration in that Tillerson is advocating staying in Syria for a very long time.

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The United States has deployed around 2,000 ground troops to Syria and its warplanes patrol over the east of the country, hunting remnants of IS, which was largely routed from the country a year ago.

Both the Obama and Trump administrations have backed United Nations-led talks on Syria based in Geneva, but they have made little progress toward negotiating a political solution to the civil war.

"One of the huge mistakes made in Iraq was we left too quickly, and that's what caused al Qaeda to reemerge, it's what caused it to morph into ISIS", Tillerson said during the interview. It was that vacuum that allowed ISIS and other terrorist organizations to wreak havoc on the country. We can not allow history to repeat itself in Syria.

"The American military presence on Syrian land is illegitimate and represents a blatant breach of global law and an aggression against national sovereignty", Syrian foreign ministry statement said. If the Syrian President leaves his post as part of a peace process under the aegis of the United Nations, it will create the conditions for lasting peace, the US Secretary of State said.

"Syria remains a source of severe strategic problems and a major challenge for our diplomacy", Mr Tillerson said.

US troops completed a withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, eight years after they toppled Saddam Hussein's rule, only to return in much smaller numbers in 2014 to fight IS, which in 2014 seized large swathes of territory in both Iraq and Syria. And Republicans and Democrats in the USA have grown anxious that both of Assad's allies are now entrenched in the country, with Iran in particular posing an immediate threat to neighboring Israel.

But Tillerson also declared in his speech that "reducing and expelling malicious Iranian influence from Syria" is a top priority.

Rex Tillerson isn't on Twitter but he still can't ignore President Trump's tweets.