US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has declared that Bashar al-Assad and his family have no role in the future of Syria.

“The United States wants a whole and unified Syria with no role for Bashar al-Assad in the government,” Tillerson said on Thursday as he returend from a week-long trip through Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan, and India:

It is our view and I have said this many times as well that we do not believe that there is a future for the Assad regime and Assad family. The reign of the Assad family is coming to an end. The only issue is how that should that be brought about.

The Secretary of State spoke after stopping in Geneva to see the UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura, who announced that indirect talks between the Assad regime and opposition will resume in Geneva on November 28.

With the US largely sidelined by Russia in the political process since 2016, the Trump Administration has stepped back from pressure on the Assad regime. It has cut aid to rebel groups unless they focus solely on the Islamic State, and has done little to address the regime’s sieges and ongoing bombing in some areas by Russian and regime warplanes.

The US has joined Russia in one of Moscow’s proclaimed “de-escalation zones”, covering southwest Syria near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Tillerson acknowledged that the Trump Administration had concluded that it was “not a prerequisite that Assad goes” before a political process started. He did not indicate how the US would persuade Russia and Iran, let alone Assad, to arrange the departure of the leader and his family, nor did he give any details of discussions with the Saudis, who had been one of the key backers of the Syrian opposition and rebels.

A “Western diplomat” told Reuters:

My reading is that Assad is here to stay for as long as the Russians and the Iranians have no alternative to him. The date of his departure will depend on the Russians more than anyone else. Once – or if – they find someone better, he may go.