President Trump has abandoned the goal of pressing President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to leave power, marking a sharp departure from the Middle East policy that guided the Obama administration for more than five years, the White House said on Friday.
“With respect to Assad, there is a political reality that we have to accept,” said Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary.
“The United States has profound priorities in Syria and Iraq, and we’ve made it clear that counterterrorism, particularly the defeat of ISIS, is foremost among those priorities,” he added, using the acronym for the Islamic State.
In a sense, Mr. Spicer’s comments — and similar comments on Thursday by Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and Nikki R. Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations — have merely made explicit an assumption that has guided the Trump administration’s policy toward the region in recent months.
But the comments have also stirred criticism, including from some Republican lawmakers, who assert that Syria will continue to be a magnet for extremists as long as Mr. Assad is in control of the country.
“Trying to fight ISIS while pretending that we can ignore the Syrian civil war that was its genesis and fuels it to this day is a recipe for more war, more terror, more refugees, and more instability,” Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Thursday night.
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