Assad has in recent days called for an end to the US and all foreign presence in Syria, and has also repeatedly vowed to liberate all parts of the country. China, Iran, and Russia also stand poised to engage in massive reconstruction efforts and investment, which international organizations have estimated to be in the hundreds of billions of dollars.
The Secretary of State further peppered his comments with criticism of Iran, saying that "through its position in Syria, Iran is in a stronger position to extend its track record of attacking U.S. interests, allies, and personnel in the region. It is spending billions of dollars a year to prop up Assad and wage proxy wars at the expense of supporting its own people." He further asserted as part of the prepared remarks that, "For many years, Syria under Bashar al-Assad has been a client state of Iran. A Syrian central government that is not under the control of Assad will have new legitimacy to assert its authority over the country."
Though Tillerson was aggressive in his anti-Assad and anti-Iran rhetoric, he stopped short of calling for military efforts toward regime change, claiming to desire de-escalation and diplomatic efforts at winding down the war. Yet at the same time he called for a new government: "The re-assertion of national sovereignty by a new government, along with de-escalation efforts and new flows of international aid, will lower violence, set better conditions for stability, and speed up the departure of foreign forces." It was merely as recent as October that Tillerson said the "reign of the Assad family is coming to an end."
Tillerson said of past "mistakes" in the region, "We will not repeat the mistakes of Libya. Well-intentioned military interventions, independent of stabilization and political strategies, can have a host of adverse unintended consequences.
Tillerson noted that a possible US withdrawal from Syria would likely help President Bashar Assad and give Iran an opportunity to strengthen its role in region.
US senior diplomat also explained that Washington and its allies are working to develop a plan to take out al Qaeda terrorists attempting to set up a base of operations in the Syrian city of Idlib.
However, Moscow must increase pressure on Damascus in order to advance the Geneva peace process, US Secretary of State pointed out.
"The Assad regime clearly looks to Russia as a guarantor of its security. Russia therefore has a meaningful role to play in persuading the Assad regime to engage constructively in the Geneva process," Tillerson said. "Russia must put new levels of pressure on the regime to not just show up in Geneva but credibly engage with the UN efforts and implement to bring the outcomes."