US envoy Nikki Haley says Syria regime change is inevitable

Updated 7:36 AM EDT, Mon April 10, 2017
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Story highlights

Haley says Assad hinders political solution for Syria

She warns US could carry out more strikes on regime

(CNN) —  

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has told CNN that removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power is a priority, cementing an extraordinary U-turn in the Trump administration’s stance on the embattled leader.

Two days after the US launched military strikes on a Syrian airbase in response to a chemical weapons attack widely blamed on the Assad regime, Haley said Assad’s departure was inevitable.

But before Tuesday’s chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, which killed 89 people, Haley had said toppling Assad was not a priority. President Donald Trump, before his election, described fighting ISIS and seeking Assad’s removal at the same time as “idiocy.”

After seeing images of the horrific aftermath of the chemical attack, Trump ordered a bombardment of the Shayrat airbase in western Syria, which the US believes was the launchpad for the strike. It was the first time that the US had struck the Syrian regime since the start of the six-year civil war

In her interview with CNN’s “State of the Union,” Haley said removing Assad from power was one of a number of priorities for the US.

“Getting Assad out is not the only priority. So what we’re trying to do is obviously defeat ISIS. Secondly, we don’t see a peaceful Syria with Assad in there. Thirdly, get the Iranian influence out. And then finally move towards a political solution, because at the end of the day this is a complicated situation, there are no easy answers and a political solution is going to have to happen,” she said in the interview with anchor Jake Tapper.

Haley said that the Trump administration’s view was that a political solution would not happen with Assad in power, though she stopped short of saying Assad’s departure was now official US policy.

“If you look at his actions, if you look at the situation, it’s going to be hard to see a government that’s peaceful and stable with Assad,” she said.

“Regime change is something that we think is going to happen because all of the parties are going to see that Assad is not the leader that needs to be taking place for Syria.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was more equivocal about Assad’s future on Sunday. He told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that the threat of ISIS would first need to be reduced, then “I think we can turn our attention directly to stabilizing the situation in Syria.”

Change of tone

The decision to carry out strikes against the regime and the change in tone from Haley follows Trump’s comments that the chemical attack “crossed a lot of lines for me.”

Five days before the Khan Sheikhoun attack, Haley had indicated the US had ditched the Obama administration’s policy of removing Assad.