image image

Syrian conflict

French President Emmanuel Macron clarifies remarks on Syria after suggesting he convinced Donald Trump to keep US troops there

Macron on Sunday said he had persuaded Trump, who previously announced he wanted to take US forces out of Syria, that it was necessary to stay and be there for ‘the long term’

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 April, 2018, 12:33pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 April, 2018, 10:53pm

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday he had not meant to signal a change in the US position on Syria, after the White House rebuffed his suggestion he had dissuaded President Donald Trump from rapidly withdrawing US troops.

Macron on Sunday said he had convinced Trump, who previously announced he wanted to take US forces out of Syria, that it was necessary to stay and be there for “the long term”.

The White House late on Sunday then issued a statement saying the US view had not changed, and that Trump wanted US forces to leave as quickly as possible and “completely crush IS”.

“The White House is right in saying that the military engagement is against Daesh [acronym for Islamic State] and will stop the day the war against Daesh will be over. France has the same view,” Macron told reporters when asked about the White House statement, adding that there was no change in the US position there and he had not indicated any.

“But yes, I am right in saying that the United States, because they decided this intervention [the Saturday strikes] with us, fully realised that our responsibility goes beyond the war against Daesh and that there is also a humanitarian responsibility and a responsibility to build peace over the long term.”

Macron had also said in the interview broadcast by BFM TV, RMC radio and Mediapart online news that he had convinced Trump to focus the strikes on the chemical weapons sites.

While it is unusual for a French president to present himself as driving US policy in military matters in the Middle East, Macron and Trump have developed a friendly relationship over the past year.

A day after France joined the United States and Britain in launching unprecedented strikes against regime targets, Macron insisted the intervention was legitimate and urged international powers to push for a diplomatic solution to the brutal seven-year war.

“We have not declared war on the regime of Bashar al-Assad,” the 40-year-old centrist said.

But Macron again argued his first major military intervention as president was necessary to send a signal that the use of chemical weapons against civilians would not go unpunished.

Saturday’s strikes targeted three alleged chemical weapons facilities in response to what the West says was a gas attack on the town of Douma that killed dozens of people.

“We have full international legitimacy in intervening in this case,” Macron said.

He said the US, France and Britain targeted “extremely precise sites of chemical weapons use” in an operation that went off “perfectly”.

While this operation was not sanctioned by the United Nations, Syria was supposed to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal under a 2013 UN resolution, he said.

Despite soaring tensions with Russia, Macron stressed the need to “talk to everyone” in pursuing a Syrian settlement, saying his plans to visit Moscow in May remain unchanged.

Like Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May, Macron has faced a domestic backlash for striking Syria without consulting the legislature, but he defended the move as well within his constitutional powers.

“This mandate is given democratically to the president by the people in the presidential election,” he said.

Additional reporting by Reuters