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White House says Trump still plans to withdraw troops from Syria

US President Donald Trump addresses the nation on the situation in Syria April 13, 2018 at the White House in Washington, DC
Mandel NGAN (AFP)
Hours before, France's Macron asserted that Paris had convinced Trump to stay engaged in Syria 'long term'

The White House said Sunday that President Donald Trump still plans to withdraw US troops from Syria "as quickly as possible", saying that American objectives in the country have not altered. 

"The US mission has not changed -- the President has been clear that he wants US forces to come home as quickly as possible," press secretary 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 added.

The statement came hours after French President Emmanuel Macron asserted that Paris had convinced Trump to stay engaged in Syria "for the long-term."

Ten days ago, President Trump was saying the United States of America had a duty to disengage from Syria," Macron said during a two-hour grilling on French television, broadcast days after his government joined the US and Britain in launching strikes against alleged Syrian regime chemical weapons facilities.

"I assure you, we have convinced him that it is necessary to stay for the long-term," Macron told veteran journalists Jean-Jacques Bourdin and Edwy Plenel.

The three allies joined forces for the missile strikes a week after a deadly attack on the town of Douma where civilians were hit with chlorine and sarin, according to the Western powers.

"We have not declared war on the regime of Bashar al-Assad," the 40-year-old centrist said at the start of a combative TV interview, stretching nearly three hours, to mark almost a year in office.

Le président français Emmanuel Macron avant un entretien à la télévision avec les journalistes de RMC-BFM Jean-Jacques Bourdin  (D) et Mediapart, Edwy Plenel (G), dans le palais de Chaillot à Paris le 15 avril 2018  ( FRANCOIS GUILLOT (AFP) )

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".

And he further argued the operation was legitimate despite not being sanctioned by the UN, retorting that under a 2013 UN resolution Syria was supposed to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal.

As for his allies, Macron suggested France played a pivotal role in changing 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.

And in a reference to Trump's raging on Twitter at Russia over the possibility of strikes, Macron added: "The second thing is that 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."

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.

Like Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May he has faced a domestic backlash for striking Syria without consulting parliament, 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.

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