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France’s President Emmanuel Macron Says He Has ‘Convinced’ Donald Trump to Keep Troops in Syria



Paris also warns of potential for ‘humanitarian disaster’ in Syria’s Idlib unless diplomatic solution to the conflict is found.

French President Emmanuel Macron has said he has “convinced” Donald Trump to keep troops in Syria, as he defended the use of air strikes in the wake of an apparent chemical attack in Syria.

The US, France and Britain launched more than 100 missiles targeting a number of what they said were three facilities linked to the chemical weapons programme, with Mr Macron saying that during the discussions President Trump was persuaded to drop the idea that Washington would be pulling out of Syria soon.

“Ten days ago, President Trump was saying ‘the United States should withdraw from Syria’. We convinced him it was necessary to stay,” Mr Macron said in an interview broadcast by BFM TV, RMC radio and Mediapart online news. “We convinced him it was necessary to stay for the long term,” he added.

Mr Trump had tweeted a number of messages laying out the fact he would strike back against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with Washington and Paris saying they prove that Assad was behind the attack on the town of Douma on 7 April, with chlorine one of the chemicals used.

Mr Macron said limiting the strikes to three specific targets was not necessarily Mr Trump’s initial plan, but that they were legitimate and needed.

“We also persuaded him that we needed to limit the strikes to chemical weapons [sites], after things got a little carried away over tweets,” he said.

“We had reached a point where these strikes were necessary to give back the [international] community some credibility,” he added.

Responding to Mr Macron, Mr Trump said the US still wants its forces to return home from Syria as soon as possible.

“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 Sanders said in a statement.

“We are determined to completely crush ISIS 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,” she said.

France has been at the forefront of efforts to try to find a solution to the crisis in Syria. Mr Macron said he had no plans to change next month’s trip to Russia, which backs the Syrian government politically and militarily, in order to find a political solution, even though Moscow had made itself complicit in Assad’s actions, he said.

“Of course they are 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,” Mr Macron said.

Mr Macron’s intervention comes as the US, UK and France push a draft resolution ahead of a meeting of the UN’s Security Council on Monday, which includes a proposal for an independent investigation into alleged chemical weapons attacks that identifies those responsible.

Both the Syrian government and its ally Russia have denied involvement in the chemical attack.

On Saturday, the UN Security Council rejected a separate resolution tabled by Russia calling for condemnation of “aggression” by the US and its allies. Only three countries – Russia, China and Bolivia – voted in favour of the resolution at the end of an emergency meeting. Eight countries voted against and three abstained.

In terms of the wider Syrian civil war, French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned of a “humanitarian disaster” in the rebel-controlled Syrian city of Idlib.

There are fears that it may be the next target for the Syrian army to retake, with tens of thousands of government opposition fighters and civilians having fled to the northern Idlib region from parts of the country which the army has recaptured over the last couple of years.

Those in control of Idlib include both jihadi factions and nationalist rebels. The dominant force there is Hayat Tahrir al Sham, an Islamist alliance spearheaded by the former al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria.

Mr Le Drian said in an interview with French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche that Idlib now has some two million inhabitants, including hundreds of thousands of Syrians evacuated from rebel-held cities taken back by the Syrian regime.

“There is a risk of a new humanitarian disaster. Idlib’s fate must be settled by a political process, which includes disarming the militias,” Mr Le Drian said.