Our job in Syria is not done yet, State Department spokesperson says.
The U.S. does not believe Bashar al-Assad will stay in power, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said Tuesday, adding it may take time for the Syrian people to be able to vote for their next leader.
"We remain committed to the Geneva process. We believe that the future of Syria will not include Bashar al-Assad, but that is ultimately up to the Syrian people and the Syrian voters to decide," Nauert told reporters in a press briefing.
The Geneva II Conference on Syria was a UN-backed international peace conference on the future of Syria with the aim of ending the Syrian civil war by bringing together the Syrian government and the opposition to discuss clear steps towards a transitional government.
Asked whether the U.S. is prepared to accept Assad’s continued rule until Syria’s next scheduled presidential election in 2021 as reported Monday by The New Yorker magazine, Nauert denied the claim.
"It's not up to the United States to ultimately decide. That is up to the Syrian people," she stressed.
Turning to a question about Russian statements on the withdrawal of their forces from Syria, Nauert said Russia may consider its job to be done in Syria, but the U.S.-led global coalition will continue operating in the country.
"There are still pockets of ISIS. The country still needs to be stabilized. We were just talking about rubble removal and we were talking about de-mining," Nauert noted, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, another name for Daesh.
"If Russia chooses to pull out, certainly that is its choice to do so," Nauert added. "But we continue to work through all our partners to try to stabilize the country."
Last week, the commander of the Russian forces in Syria, Colonel General Sergei Surovikin, said Russia will withdraw its 23 combat aircraft, two helicopters, special forces units, military police and area security personnel from Syria following an announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin declaring “victory” in Syria during a surprise visit to a military base there.