National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said that while he and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley are advocating regime change in Syria, “we are not saying that we are the ones who are going to effect that change.”
Haley told CNN on Sunday that “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.”
On Fox News Sunday, McMaster stressed that what “everyone who’s involved in this conflict needs to do is to do everything they can to resolve this civil war, to halt this humanitarian catastrophe, this political catastrophe, not only in Syria, but the catastrophe is affecting the greater Middle East, it’s affecting Europe and it’s a threat to the American people as well.”
“And so, to do that, what’s required is some kind of a political solution to that very complex problem. And what Ambassador Haley pointed out is it’s very difficult to understand how a political solution could result from the continuation of the Assad regime,” he said.
The administration is telling “other countries have to ask themselves some hard questions,” he added.
“Russia should ask themselves, what are we doing here? Why are we supporting this murderous regime that is committing mass murder of its own population and using the most heinous weapons available? So, I think that while people are really anxious to find — to find inconsistencies in [administration] statements, they are in fact very consistent in terms of what is the ultimate political objective in Syria.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told CBS on Sunday that the U.S. must “keep our priorities straight” and “we believe that the first priority is the defeat of ISIS, that, by defeating ISIS and removing their caliphate from their control.”
“And once the ISIS threat has been reduced or eliminated, I think we can turn our attention directly to stabilizing the situation in Syria,” Tillerson added. “We are hopeful that we can prevent a continuation of the civil war, and that we can bring the parties to the table to begin the process of political discussions.”
McMaster told Fox that he and Tillerson are on the same page.
“I think as you saw with the strike, that there has to be a degree of simultaneous activity as well as sequencing of the defeat of ISIS first,” he said. “What you have in Syria is a very destructive cycle of violence perpetuated by ISIS, obviously, but also by this regime and their Iranian and Russian sponsors. And so, what we have to be able to do is to work together with our allies and partners to help resolve this conflict and the resolution of the conflict will tell each of the elements that you are talking about… it has to be a significant change in the nature of the Assad regime and its behavior in particular.”
The objective of last week’s strikes on an Assad airfield were “to deter the continued use” of chemical agents after the sarin attack on an Idlib province town, “because there’s been a pattern of the abuse of chemical weapons by the Assad regime and his mass murder attacks against innocent civilians.”
“That’s not what the objective was, to take out the airfield forever,” he added. “The objective was to send a very strong political message to Assad… I think everyone should realize this is the first time the United States has acted directly against the Assad regime, and that should be a strong message to Assad and to his sponsors who are enabling his campaign of mass murder against his own civilians.”
On potential future action against Assad, McMaster said President Trump “will make whatever decision he thinks is in the best interest of the American people, and it will be our job to provide him with options based on how we see this conflict evolve in this period of time before us, after the strike.”
Asked if Russia was involved in the attack, McMaster replied, “Well, I think what we should do is ask Russia — how could it be, if you have advisors at that airfield, that you didn’t know that the Syrian air force was preparing and executing a mass murder attack with chemical weapons? I think we ought to ask them a question.”
The relationship between the U.S. and Russia “can be whatever the Russians want it to be,” the national security advisor said. “They can be part of the solution or they can continue what has been really a very sophisticated campaign of subversion against Western interests and a campaign of subversion and intervention on behalf of a murderous regime in the Middle East.”