America’s top diplomat Rex Tillerson says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has no role to play in the future of his country and he must go.
During a short stop-over in Geneva on Thursday at the end of a week-long trip to major capitals in the Middle East and South Asia, U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson said "the United States wants a whole and unified Syria with no role for Bashar al-Assad in the government."
Tillerson made these comments following discussions regarding ongoing developments in Syria with Staffan de Mistura, UN special envoy for Syria. Syria’s civil war has gone on for more than six years. Nearly one half million people have been killed and around 11 million have been displaced both inside and outside the country.
Tillerson noted positive signs toward a political resolution to this crisis could be seen. He said the militant Islamic State group was "on the brink of defeat" and the United States was continuing its efforts "to de-escalate the violence in Syria."
Tillerson refuted suggestions that Washington’s stance that the Syrian president had to go reflected a change of position.
"I have said this many times as well that we do not believe there is a future for the Assad regime, the Assad family," he said. "I think I have said it on a-number-of occasions.
"The reign of the Assad family is coming to the end. The only issue is how should that be brought about."
Tillerson said he believed that Assad ultimately would be brought down as part of Security Council Resolution 2254, the UN's road map for peace in Syria.
He noted that the resolution outlines procedures for holding UN-supervised elections for a transitional government and the development of a new constitution.
While these are specifically prescribed, he said there was no "prerequisite that Assad go before that process starts, rather the mechanism by which Assad departs will likely emerge from that process."
Prospects for peace appear better since U.S.-backed Kurdish-led soldiers and Russia-supported Syrian government forces have made major inroads in recapturing large swathes of territory previously held by IS and other terrorist groups.
Iran 'a hanger-on'
Tillerson bristled at the idea that gains made by the Assad regime were a "triumph" for Iran.
"I see Iran as a hanger-on," said Tillerson. "Iran has not particularly been successful in liberating areas."
He acknowledged the Russian government’s successful role in advancing the Syrian regime’s cause by "providing significant air support" and noted that U.S.-led coalition forces also have had "enormous successes."
But, he rejected the notion that "Iran should be given credit for the defeat of the Islamic State in any way in Syria. Rather, I think they have somewhat taken advantage of the situation with their presence there."
Staffan de Mistura, who has been mediating peace negotiations between the Syrian government and opposition since January 2016 briefed the UN Security Council by video conference following his meeting with the U.S. Secretary of State.
The U.N. envoy said he planned to reconvene an eighth round of intra-Syrian peace talks on Nov. 28.
Meetings called off
Planned meetings between Tillerson and senior officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross, the UN refugee agency and International Organization for Migration were called off at short notice.
Neither the ICRC nor UNHCR would comment on the cancellations. However, IOM said it was "disappointed."
Joel Millman, IOM spokesman, told VOA "no reason was given as to why the meeting was cancelled.
"We are always happy to meet people of that rank, especially such an important member as the United States."
Millman said he did not know what topics might have been broached during an encounter between Tillerson and IOM's Director General, William Lacy Swing.
But, he did acknowledge that humanitarian catastrophes such as the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh were issues of great concern for IOM and other aid agencies.