Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made it clear on Wednesday that the United States will not support the continued rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Tillerson's comments came after meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow. Tillerson and Lavrov said in a joint press conference that Syria was a major subject in their discussions.
"Clearly, our view is that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end," Tillerson said. "And they have again brought this on themselves with their conduct of the war these past few years."
Tillerson said that Russia could help Assad "recognize this reality."
"We discussed our view that Russia, as their closest ally in the conflict, perhaps has the best means of helping Assad recognize this reality," Tillerson said.
"We do think it's important that Assad's departure is done in an orderly way," he continued. "So that certain interests and constituencies that he represents feel they have been represented at the negotiating table for a political solution."
Tillerson avoided giving specific details of how Assad would leave power, saying, "We leave that to the process going forward."
However, the secretary of state reiterated that Assad was not welcome as a leader in the international community.
"The final outcome in our view does not provide for a role for Assad or for the Assad family in the future governance of Syria. We do not think the international community will accept that. We do not think the world will accept that," he said.
When a reporter asked Tillerson whether war crime charges would be raised against Assad for using chemical weapons, Tillerson did not rule out the possibility.
"We discussed the issue that as time goes by, and more and more evidence continues to be gathered, it is possible that the threshold necessary to charge individuals, including Bashar al-Assad, may be achieved," he said, before stressing that there was a "high legal hurdle."
Tillerson's comments are a notable reversal in the Trump administration's policy toward Syria. Before the April 4 chemical weapons attack, both Tillerson and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said that removing Assad from power was not a priority for the U.S.
"The longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people," Tillerson had said, when asked whether the U.S. would get involved in Syria's internal politics on March 30.
Haley, prior to the chemical attack, had said, "Our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out."
Following the April 4 attacks, Haley asserted that there could be no political change in Syria while Assad remained in power.
View the whole clip of Tillerson's remarks below:
— Department of State (@StateDept) April 12, 2017