The United States has announced a shift in its diplomatic policy on Syria and is no longer insisting that its president Bashar al-Assad be removed as the head of the war-torn country.

In a clear departure from the Obama administration's stance on Assad, and against EU policy, the US is now moving its focus to its battle with Isis.

"You pick and choose your battles and when we're looking at this, it's about changing up priorities and our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out," the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, told reporters on Thursday (30 March).

"Do we think he's a hindrance? Yes. Are we going to sit there and focus on getting him out? No. What we are going to focus on is putting the pressure in there so that we can start to make a change in Syria," she explained.

Reuters noted that the Obama administration in later years shifted its focus on reaching a deal with Russia that would eventually see the departure of Assad from power. This happened after officials privately conceded that Assad "wasn't going anywhere soon" and acknowledged difficulties in removing him from power.

The Obama administration changed its stance on Assad, saying that he had to go but that the timing of his departure should be decided through talks.

Bashar al-Assad Asma al-Assad
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma (R) cast their votes in the country's presidential elections at a polling station in Damascus Reuters/SANA

During his presidential campaign, President Trump said that he placed higher priority on defeating Islamic State than trying to get Assad to step down.

Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, said: "We can't necessarily focus on Assad the way that the previous administration did. Our priority is to really look at how we get things done, who do we need to work with to really make a difference for the people in Syria."

A senior Trump administration official told the news agency that Haley's comments reflect "a measure of just realism, accepting the facts on the ground ... Assad is never going to have sufficient force to reassert control over the whole country ... Our focus is on defeating Isis and al-Qaeda and preventing Syria from being used as a terrorist safe haven."

Nikki Haley
Nikki Haley: 'Our priority is no longer to focus on getting Assad out' Kevin Lamarque// Reuters

On Wednesday (29 March), Halley accused Russia, Iran and Assad's regime of committing war crimes. While supporting the UN-led Syria peace talks, she warned that the US can no longer be a safe haven for terrorists and that it was important to "get Iran and their proxies out".

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reiterated Haley's comments, saying that Assad's longer-term status "will be decided by the Syrian people".

However, France's UN Ambassador, Francois Delattre, stuck to his country's stance, saying: "Assad is not, and cannot be, the future of his country."