U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the United States sees no role for President Bashar al-Assad in any future Syrian government.
"The reign of the Assad family is coming to an end," Tillerson said on October 26 after meeting in Geneva with the United Nations’ Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura.
"The United States wants a whole and unified Syria with no role for Bashar Assad in the government," Tillerson told reporters.
"The only issue is how that should be brought about.”
Tillerson's comments come amid a flurry of diplomatic activity regarding Syria's future and battlefield gains against Islamic State (IS) militants -- something de Mistura said has created a "moment of truth" for the country.
After meeting with Tillerson, de Mistura announced his intention to convene the next round of Syrian peace negotiations in Geneva on November 28, the eighth round of talks since early last year.
The previous rounds in search of a political solution to the war achieved only minimal success, with much of the negotiations deadlocking over the fate of Assad's rule.
The Syrian president is supported by Russia and Iran, while the United States and Turkey back differing rebel groups pushing for his removal in the six-year civil war.
Separate peace talks are also being conducted in the Kazakh capital of Astana -- sponsored by Russia, Iran, and Turkey -- to deal with cease-fire and other battlefield matters, and a seventh round is scheduled for October 30-31. The United States generally sends an observer to Astana.
Iran A 'Hanger-On'
Tillerson said Assad’s departure should be managed through the Geneva process, but he added that his removal was not a "prerequisite" for the process to continue.
The U.S.-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Syrian Arab and Kurdish fighters, and Syrian government troops, although often battling each other, have separately made great strides in driving IS militants out of territory they formerly controlled, including their self-declared capital of Raqqa.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said that more than 90 percent of Syria’s territory had been recaptured from "terrorists."
Putin generally does not differentiate between IS fighters and U.S.-backed rebels when referring to "terrorists."
Tillerson said the only reason Syrian government forces had been successful in recent military offensives was because of the "air support they have received from Russia."
He downplayed remarks by some critics that recent government battlefield gains represent a "triumph" for Iran.
"I see Iran as a hanger-on," Tillerson said. "Iran has not been successful; the Russian government has been more successful. We have had success. I don't think that Iran should be given credit for the defeat of [Islamic State] in Syria.”
The six-year civil war in Syria has killed more than 330,000 people, created 6.1 million refugees, and forced some 5 million people to become internally displaced.
With reporting by AP and Reuters