Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has announced that the administration of President Donald Trump believes that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad cannot remain in power following a chemical attack against his own citizens. Tillerson's stance is a reversal from previous comments that he had made a week before the internationally condemned attack.
On April 6, Tillerson held a press conference in Palm Beach, Florida. During his comments, the Secretary of State noted that the Trump administration would weigh its options in how to oust Assad from power, The Hill reports.
"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," Tillerson said.
He added that, in light of the chemical attack, the U.S. position on the Syrian Civil War would no longer allow Assad to remain in power indefinitely.
"Assad's role in the future is uncertain clearly, and with the acts that he has taken it would seem that there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people," Tillerson concluded.
On April 4, the rebel-controlled city of Khan Sheikhoun in the Idlib Province of Syria was attacked with an airbourne gas. At least 86 Syrians were killed, among them 28 children, while hundreds were left in critical condition. Many survivors were taken to neighboring Turkey to receive medical attention and undergo tests, The New York Times reports.
On April 6, the Turkish Health Ministry announced that they had reason to believe that the victims had been exposed to sarin, a nerve agent banned by international law.
"According to the results of preliminary tests, patients were exposed to chemical material (Sarin)," the ministry said in a statement.
After gassing civilians with sarin in August 2013, the Assad regime had agreed to dismantle its stockpile of chemical weapons in exchange for the administration of former President Barack Obama agreeing to not authorize military force against it. Both the Assad regime and its Russian allies have denied using sarin against the residents of Khan Sheikhoun.
On April 5, Trump disclosed during a White House press conference that U.S. intelligence had discovered the Assad regime had been using chlorine gas on Syrain civilians for weeks, but, with the most recent events, "You're now talking about a whole different level."
Since March 26, international aid organizations have claimed Assad had been bombarding Syrians in rebel-controlled areas with chlorine gas. On March 30, Tillerson signaled during a press conference in Turkey that the U.S. did not consider removing Assad from power a priority, CNN reports.
Tillerson stated that the "longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people."
That same day, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley announced that the Trump administration would "no longer... sit and focus on getting Assad out."
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has blasted the Trump administration's previous rhetoric towards Assad, asserting that it had emboldened his campaign against the Syrian rebels.
"If you're Bashar al-Assad, and you read that it's no longer a priority for the United States to have you removed from power... then that is an incentive to act with impunity," Rubio said, according to The Daily Beast.
On April 6, local reports from Syrian media indicated that a second chemical attack had occurred in the village of Al-Lataminah, with chlorine gas allegedly being dropped by Assad's air force, according to The Jerusalem Post.