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At Stanford, Tillerson talks about Syria, Trump's tweets

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his NATO counterparts held talks on Georgia and counter-terrorism efforts on Wednesday, the final day of their two-day meeting in Brussels.

Virginia Mayo / AP

Last Updated Jan 17, 2018 3:52 PM EST

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday at Stanford University gave a rundown of the United States' work to stabilize Syria. After the speech, set up by the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Hoover Institution, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pressed Tillerson on everything from President Trump's use of social media to North Korea's nuclear threat. 

In the past, Tillerson has made it clear that the way forward in Syria does not include Syrian president Bashar al Assad, something he reiterated Wednesday. But on Wednesday, he also urged "patience" Assad's departure, laying out no plan for any regime change. In recent days, troops backing Assad have said they want the U.S. presence in Syria to end, according to Syria's state-run news agency. The U.S. has at least 2,000 troops in Syria, according to figures the Pentagon released in December. 

"For many years, Syria under Bashar al-Assad has been a client state of Iran. A Syrian central government that is not under the control of Assad will have new legitimacy to assert its authority over the country," Tillerson said in his prepared remarks. "The re-assertion of national sovereignty by a new government, along with de-escalation efforts and new flows of international aid, will lower violence, set better conditions for stability, and speed up the departure of foreign forces."

"We recognize Syria presents many complexities," Tillerson continued. "Our proposed solutions will not be easy to achieve. But it is necessary to proceed in these ways for the sake of our security and that of our allies. We will not repeat the mistakes of Libya. Well-intentioned military interventions, independent of stabilization and political strategies, can have a host of adverse unintended consequences. For this reason, we will seek to de-escalate the civil war in Syria, work for peace, and encourage all parties to head to the negotiating table. Continued fighting will likely lead to worsened humanitarian conditions, more chaos, and increased regional military intervention in Syria. Our focus is to build a positive political path forward that honors the will of the Syrian people and sustains the unity and territorial integrity of Syria."

After Tillerson's speech, Rice promptly asked him about President Trump's use of social media. 

"He's world class at social media. I'm not," Tillerson joked. 

The current secretary of state said he has no Twitter accounts, so his staff often prints them out for him to read. Then, Tillerson said he and his staff decide how to make policy out of those tweets.

Tillerson tried to put a positive note on the president's effusive use of social media.

"It is a great tool when it's used well. The president has used it to great effect, by bypassing the way you traditionally communicate," Tillerson said. 

Tillerson said the world has not seen a sanctions regime in place against North Korea like the one in place now, or the current level of cooperation and assistance from China.