French president 'convinced' Donald Trump to stay in Syria ahead of strikes

Emmanuel Macron said he told the US President not to withdraw troops from Syria before last Friday's series of air strikes 

French President Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron said he “convinced” US President Donald Trump not to withdraw troops from Syria.

Earlier this month, Trump declared that the US would "be coming out of Syria very soon".

"Ten days ago, President Trump said the USA's will is to disengage from Syria. We convinced him that it was necessary to stay," Macron said, during a two-hour televised interview with several French media outlets.

On Friday, the United States, France and the United Kingdom launched a series of strikes on a research laboratory and two storage facilities associated with Syria's chemical weapons program.

Macron said he also persuaded Trump to keep the strikes limited.

The pair, who are reported to have a friendly relationship, spoke multiple times in the days before the military action was taken.

Macron insisted the Western allies had "complete international legitimacy to act" in Syria. He said the allies had clear proof there had been a chemical attack in the town of Douma near Damascus on 7 April and that the Syrian government was responsible. Syria vehemently denies this.

After Macron's comments, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said: "The US mission has not changed - the president has been clear that he wants US forces to come home as quickly as possible".

But she added that the US was "determined to completely crush" the Islamic State group and prevent its return.

Announcing the strikes in an address to the nation on Friday evening in Washington, Trump insisted: "America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria - under no circumstances."

The US has about 2,000 personnel on the ground in eastern Syria supporting an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

 A tweet from Trump last week about US missile strikes on Syria had read: "Get ready, Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and 'smart'. You shouldn't be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!"

In a phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the weekend, Russian leader Vladimir Putin said any further strikes by the United States in Syria could lead to "chaos in international relations," according to a statement from the Kremlin.

Both Putin and Rouhani agreed the missiles strikes had "seriously damaged" the prospect for a political settlement in Syria, the statement said.

Macron said he told Russian President Vladimir Putin directly that Russia - which backs the Syrian government militarily - was complicit.

"They have not used chlorine themselves but they have methodically built the international community's inability to act through diplomatic channels to stop the use of chemical weapons," he said.

The series of strikes had represented the most significant attack against President Bashar al-Assad's government by Western powers in seven years of Syria's civil war.

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