French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday that Paris had convinced Donald Trump to stay engaged in Syria “for the long-term” — but just hours later the White House responded by saying it wanted US forces there “to come home as quickly as possible”.
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 in a combative TV interview.
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.
As for his allies, Macron suggested France had helped change 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 his interviewers.
Shortly after the interview aired, the White House said the US mission in Syria “has not changed”.
“The President has been clear that he wants US forces to come home as quickly as possible,” spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.
She added that Washington was “determined to completely crush” the Islamic State group in the country “and create the conditions that will prevent its return”.
“In addition we expect our regional allies and partners to take greater responsibility both militarily and financially for securing the region.”
– Diplomacy push –
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.
In a reference to Trump’s comments on Twitter over the possibility of strikes, Macron added: “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.”
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.