Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, declared Thursday that the Trump administration does not consider it a priority that Syrian President Bashar Assad be removed from power — overtly signaling a U.S. policy shift that observers say quietly began under the Obama administration.
Haley’s comments, coupled with a vague statement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, drew sharp criticism from Republican senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain and are sure to further deflate the hopes of Syrian opposition fighters trying to oust Assad. They also suggest President Donald Trump is still seeking ways to accommodate Russia, which has backed Assad militarily in a conflict estimated to have cost a half-million lives.
“Our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out,” Haley told a small group of journalists, Reuters reported. “Our priority is to really look at how do we get things done, who do we need to work with to really make a difference for the people in Syria.”
“We can’t necessarily focus on Assad the way that the previous administration did,” Haley added.