France ‘convinced’ Trump to keep troops in Syria, Macron says
French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday said he had convinced US President Donald Trump to maintain troops in Syria, as he defended France's participation in joint air strikes.
In telephone calls before the Saturday air strikes, Macron said, he persuaded Trump not to pull US forces out of Syria.
"Ten days ago, President Trump was saying the United States of America had a duty to disengage from Syria," Macron said.
"We convinced him it was necessary to stay. I assure you, we have convinced him that it is necessary to stay for the long term."
Earlier this month, Trump vowed to pull US troops stationed in Syrian territories controlled by mostly Kurdish forces.
"It's time," Trump told reporters on 3 April. "We were very successful against (IS). We'll be successful against anybody militarily. But sometimes it's time to come back home, and we're thinking about that very seriously."
The United States has about 2,000 troops in Syria.
In apparent opposition to Trump, Pentagon officials had said that the US role in the campaign against the Islamic State (IS) group was not finished.
Brett McGurk, the special US envoy for the global coalition against IS, said earlier this month that the fight against the militants was not over.
"We are in Syria to fight ISIS. That is our mission and our mission isn't over and we are going to complete that mission," McGurk said, using a different acronym for IS.
The White House froze $200m in recovery funds for Syria in April.
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France and the UK participated in the US-led air strikes on Syrian military facilities in response to a suspected chemical weapon attack outside Damascus that Washington blames on the government.
Despite the strike, Trump initially committed to his pledge to pull US troops from Syria. He said suggested that US partners – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Egypt – would fill the void left by the Americans to counter the resurgence of IS.
"America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria under any circumstances," Trump said early on Saturday.
On Sunday, Macron defended the US-led attack, while adding that France has "not declared war on the regime of Bashar al-Assad".
"We have complete international legitimacy to act in this framework," Macron said in an interview broadcast by BFM TV, RMC radio and Mediapart online news.
"We have three members of the (UN) Security Council who have intervened."
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said on Sunday that Washington would not pull its troops out of Syria until its goals were accomplished.
Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Haley listed three aims for the United States: ensuring that chemical weapons are not used in any way that pose a risk to US interests, that IS is defeated, and that there is a good vantage point to watch what Iran is doing.
It is our goal "to see American troops come home, but we are not going to leave until we know we have accomplished those things," Haley said.