US priority on Syria no longer focused on 'getting Assad out' - Haley

NEW YORK, March 30 (Reuters) - The United States is no longer making removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power a focus of its policy in the war-torn country, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said on Thursday, in a departure from the Obama administration's initial stance on Assad's fate.

"Our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out," Ambassador Nikki Haley told a small group of reporters. "Our priority is to really look at how do we get things done, who do we need to work with to really make a difference for the people in Syria.

"We can't necessarily focus on Assad the way that the previous administration did," she said.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama said as early as August 2011 that Assad had to go. By September 2015, his administration had moderated its stance slightly, with Obama's secretary of state, John Kerry, saying that Assad had to go but the timing of his departure should be decided through negotiation.

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking in Ankara, said Assad's longer-term status "will be decided by the Syrian people." (Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Writing by Tim Ahmann and Yara Bayoumy; Editing by David Alexander and Leslie Adler)

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