White House insists Trump still planning to pull US troops out of Syria
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'The US mission has not changed'

White House insists Trump still planning to pull US troops out of Syria

Statement comes after French President Macron says he convinced his US counterpart to stay engaged in Syria ‘for the long term’

US President Donald Trump is introduced to speak to US military troops at Naval Air Station Sigonella, May 27, 2017, in Sigonella, Italy. (AP/Evan Vucci)
US President Donald Trump is introduced to speak to US military troops at Naval Air Station Sigonella, May 27, 2017, in Sigonella, Italy. (AP/Evan Vucci)

The White House said Sunday that US President Donald Trump still wants American troops to exit Syria as soon as possible, after the French president said he persuaded Trump to stay in Syria and launch airstrikes as punishment for an alleged chemical-weapons attack.

“The US mission has not changed — the President has been clear that he wants US forces to come home as quickly as possible,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

She added that the US still wants to “crush ISIS” and expects regional allies to help secure the region.

French President Emmanuel Macron asserted Sunday that Paris had convinced  Trump to stay engaged in Syria “for the long-term,” adding that French airstrikes did not amount to a declaration of war against the regime of Bashar Assad.

A Syrian soldier films the damage of the Syrian Scientific Research Center which was attacked by US, British and French military strikes to punish President Bashar Assad for suspected chemical attack against civilians, in Barzeh, near Damascus, Syria, Saturday, April 14, 2018 (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

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 now 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 at the start of a combative TV interview, stretching nearly three hours, to mark almost a year in office.

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.”

(COMBO) This combination of file pictures created on April 14, 2018 in Paris shows (LtoR) France’s President Emmanuel Macron giving a press conference in Paris on March 5, 2018, Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May leaving 10 Downing Street in central London on November 1, 2017, and US President Donald Trump attending a meeting at the White House in Washington, DC, on April 12, 2018.
The United States, Britain and France carried out a wave of pre-dawn strikes against Syria’s regime on April 14, 2018 in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack. / AFP PHOTO

And he further argued the operation was legitimate despite not being sanctioned by the UN, retorting that under a 2013 UN resolution Syria was supposed to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal.

As for his allies, Macron suggested France played a pivotal role in changing Trump’s mind on the need to stay involved in the conflict.

“Ten days ago, President Trump was saying the United States of America had a duty to disengage from Syria,” Macron said.

“I assure you, we have convinced him that it is necessary to stay for the long-term,” he told veteran journalists Jean-Jacques Bourdin and Edwy Plenel, charged with the two-hour grilling on BFMTV.

And in a reference to Trump’s raging on Twitter at Russia over the possibility of strikes, Macron added: “The second thing is that we have also convinced him that he must limit his strikes to chemical weapons, at a time when there was a media furore via tweet, as I’m sure you noticed.”

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 he has faced a domestic backlash for striking Syria without consulting parliament, 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.

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