Tillerson: Coalition forming to pressure Assad

Secretary of State says steps are underway on international coalition to pressure Syrian President.

Ben Ariel ,

Rex Tillerson
Rex Tillerson

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Thursday that “steps are underway” on an international coalition to pressure Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad from power, Fox News reported.

The comments follow this week's chemical weapons attack in Syria's Idlib province, which has been blamed on the Assad regime. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump declared in the Rose Garden that the chemical strike would not be tolerated.

Tillerson pointedly said Russia should “consider carefully” its support for the Assad regime, while calling for an international effort to defeat ISIS in Syria, stabilize the country and ultimately work with partners through a political process that leads to Assad leaving power.

Asked if the U.S. would organize a coalition to remove Assad, Tillerson said, according to Fox News, “Those steps are underway.”

“It's a serious matter, it requires a serious response,” the Secretary of State continued, adding that this week's attack “violates all previous UN resolutions, violates international norms and long-held agreements.”

Tillerson made his remarks in West Palm Beach, Florida, after welcoming China's President Xi Jinping for a two-day summit with Trump. En route to Florida, Trump also said the attack "shouldn’t be allowed to happen."

Asked if Assad should go, Trump said, "He's there, and I guess he's running things so something should happen."

The statements come amid discussions at senior levels of the Pentagon and White House about the next moves in Syria and reflect a newly aggressive stance, after the Trump administration appeared ready to accept Assad as the country’s leader for the foreseeable future.

In Florida, Trump was set to receive a briefing Friday from Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster on military options that could be taken in retaliation for this week’s chemical weapons strike, Fox News reported.

According to senior military officials, McMaster and Mattis traveled to Florida to attend meetings with Trump and visiting Chinese President Xi and planned to discuss possible military action Thursday afternoon.

“There has been a ton of traffic on this in the last 48 hours,” a source told Fox News, adding that the chemical weapons attack was among the issues addressed during Wednesday’s National Security Council meeting.