Tillerson: Defeating ISIS is ‘first priority’ in Syria

The United States’ first priority is defeating the Islamic State before trying to stabilize Syria, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Saturday.

In a video clip released by CBS’ "Face the Nation," Tillerson told host John Dickerson that defeating the terrorist group not only minimizes a threat to the United States, "but to the whole stability in the region."

"It’s important that we keep our priorities straight. And we believe that the first priority is the defeat of ISIS," Tillerson said in the clip. "That by defeating ISIS and removing their caliphate from their control, we’ve now eliminated at least or minimized a particular threat not just to the United States, but to the whole stability in the region."

The full interview will air Sunday.

Tillerson said that once the threat of the Islamic state "has been reduced or eliminated," the U.S. can focus on stabilizing Syria.

"We’re hopeful that we can prevent a continuation of the civil war and that we can bring the parties to the table to begin the process of political discussions," the former ExxonMobil CEO said.

The secretary of state added that such discourse would require participation from Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in addition to their allies. Tillerson also singled out Russia, saying the U.S. is hopeful "Russia will choose to play a constructive role in supporting ceasefires through their own Astana talks, but also, ultimately, through Geneva."

"If we can achieve ceasefires in zones of stabilization in Syria, then I believe– we hope we will have the conditions to begin a useful political process," Tillerson said.

When asked by Dickerson whether he is worried about Russian retaliation after U.S. military actions, Tillerson said he sees no reason there would be retaliation.

"I see no reason that there would be retaliation since the Russians were never targeted in this particular strike," he said. "It was a very deliberate, very proportional, and– and very targeted strike undertaken in response to the chemical weapons attack. And Russia was never part of the targeting."

The United States military conducted airstrikes Thursday, targeting a regime airbase in Homs, following a chemical attack in Syria last week.

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