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Tillerson says US will keep open-ended military presence in Syria

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (R) during a press conference at Vancouver Foreign Ministers Meeting on Security and Stability on the Korean Peninsula

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has announced that US military will remain in Syria indefinitely, spelled out a US plan to advance a political transition in the country, and also called for closer cooperation with Russia to avoid conflict in “de-escalation zones.”

In a speech about the future of the Syrian war -- titled "The Way Forward in Syria" -- at Stanford University in California on Wednesday, Tillerson stated that "let us be clear: the United States will maintain a military presence in Syria, focused on ensuring ISIS cannot re-emerge,” reiterating that there is no place for President Bashar al-Assad in the war-torn country’s future. 

According to figures the Pentagon released in December, there are at least 2,000 troops in Syria as well as a diplomatic presence in cities such as Kobani.

“Responsible change may not come as immediately as some hope for, but rather through an incremental process of constitutional reform and UN-supervised elections... But change will come,” he added.

Tillerson elaborated on a US plan to further weaken Syria, already shattered by almost seven years of war, to push for a faster political transition in the country. “We will discourage economic relationships between the Assad regime and any other country... Once Assad is gone from power, the United States will gladly encourage the normalization of economic relationships between Syria and other nations.”

Contrary to the US position, Russia has once and again expressed support for Assad, and criticized the US for seeking “regime change.” Moscow’s envoy to Syria said last month that he saw no reason why Assad “shouldn’t or wouldn’t run for another presidential term.”

Tillerson tried to portray President Donald Trump’s policy toward Syria as something better than President Barack Obama’s approach, calling it better than “more years of wishful thinking.”

Trump administration officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, had previously disclosed elements of the policy but Tillerson’s speech was meant to formalize and clearly define it.

He also said "diminishing” Iran’s influence in Syria is a key goal for US, noting that “through its position in Syria, Iran is in a stronger position to extend its track record of attacking US interests, allies, and personnel in the region."

Tillerson praised Turkey’s contribution to the fight against Daesh although his speech comes as Turkey has harshly criticized US plans to create an armed force of 30,000 Syrians to maintain security in areas recently freed from the Takfiri terrorists.

According to reports, the force would consist largely of Syrian Kurds affiliated with the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) militants, a group Turkey has long said has ties to insurgents inside Turkey who've been fighting for decades for autonomy for Kurdish areas of southeastern Turkey.


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