April 15, 2018 / 7:20 PM / 7 days ago

France's Macron says he persuaded Trump to keep troops in Syria

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday said he had convinced U.S. President Donald Trump to keep troops in Syria for the long term and limit joint strikes to chemical weapons facilities.

French President Emmanuel Macron poses on the TV set before an interview with RMC-BFM and Mediapart French journalists at the Theatre National de Chaillot in Paris, France, April 15, 2018. Francois Guillot/Pool via Reuters

Early on Saturday, the United States, France and Britain launched 105 missiles targeting what they said were three chemical weapons facilities in Syria in retaliation for a suspected poison gas attack in Douma on April 7.

“Ten days ago, President Trump was saying ‘the United States should withdraw from Syria’. We convinced him it was necessary to stay,” 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.”

The United States, Britain and France said they only hit Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities and the strikes were not aimed at toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or intervening in the civil war.

Limiting the strikes to these specific targets was not necessarily Trump’s initial plan, Macron said.

“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.

While it is unusual for a French president to present himself as driving U.S. policy in military matters in the Middle East, Macron and Trump have developed a friendly relationship over the past year.

Macron invited Trump to assist to Bastille day celebrations last year and will travel to Washington on a state visit later this month.

Saturday’s strikes on Syria were the first major military operation since Macron’s election in May last year.

He reaffirmed that there was proof of chemical attacks, adding: “We had reached a point where these strikes were necessary to give back the (international) community some credibility.”

Macron said that failing so far to get the red lines respected had led Russian authorities to think of Western powers that “these people from the international community - they are nice, they are weak”.

“He (Russian President Vladimir Putin) has understood it’s not the case anymore.”

Macron added that Russia, which backs Assad politically and militarily, had made itself complicit in the Syrian government’s actions.

“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,” he said of Russia.

The French president nevertheless said he wanted to engage in dialogue with all parties involved, including Moscow, in order to find a political solution for Syria. There are no changes to his planned trip to Russia next month, he said.

Macron had warmer words for Turkey. “With those strikes we have separated the Russians and the Turks on this. The Turks condemned the chemical weapons.”

Macron added that the strikes on Syria had been “perfectly carried out”.

“All of our missiles reached their target,” he said.

Macron, criticised by the far-left and far-right and part of the conservatives over the attacks, said France, Britain and the United States had “complete international legitimacy to act.”

Reporting by Laurence Frost, Michel Rose, Marine Pennetier; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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