In a decision contradicting administration statements that called for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down from his position as a precondition to a peace process, the White House has reportedly decided to let Assad hold on to the presidency until elections in Syria are held again, the New Yorker reported on Monday.
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Citing unnamed American and European officials, the report said that the White House plans on allowing Assad to continue ruling over the war-torn country until elections are held again in Syria in 2021. The new elections are expected to be facilitated by the UN.
This report comes on the heels of a dramatic announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said on Monday on a surprise visit to Latakia that he has decided to pull out Russian troops from Syria after two years of a military campaign. Russia has said that it managed to defeat Islamic State in Syria, and now that the terror group has been crushed, it had no further cause to remain in the region.
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Until recently, officials in U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, including the president himself, have spoken publicly in favor of ousting the Syrian president, whose military is fighting against Syrian rebels in the conflicted country where a civil war has been raging for the past seven years.
In April 2017, Trump ordered the U.S. military to launch a missile strike on a Syrian base from which Assad forces had launched a chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun, a rebel-held town in the Idlib province.
Trump blasted Assad for the attack on his own people that killed at least 74 people and injured scores more. "Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women, and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror," the American president stated at the time.
"Years of previous attempts at changing Assad's behavior have all failed, and failed very dramatically," he added and called world powers to join the U.S. "in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria."
In October, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that Assad should no longer remain in rule. "The United States wants a whole unified Syria with no role for Bashar Assad in the government. The reign of the Assad family is coming to an end. The only issue is how that should that be brought about."
But now the Trump administration is reportedly willing to wait four more years until the next elections to see a political process leading to Assad's ouster resume.
Russia, Iran and Turkey are currently dominating the peace talks, and assessments proclaim that this leaves the U.S. with very little room to maneuver- which may explain why it has backed down from the initiative to remove Assad from his rule.
The Syrian president has been in power since 2000, when he took the reins from his father Hafez al-Assad, who was the president since 1971.
Under him, some 400,000 people died in the civil war, according to an estimate by the United Nations and Arab League Envoy to Syria released in April 2016.