Trump still in­tends to get troops out of Syria ASAP

The Day - - WORLD & NATION - By JAMES McAU­LEY

The White House said Mon­day that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump still in­tends an early exit for U.S. troops in Syria, as French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron at­tempted to walk back his sug­ges­tion that he had con­vinced Trump to keep them there for the “long term.”

Macron’s re­marks on Sun­day had hinted at a ma­jor pol­icy shift for Trump, who had said he wanted a U.S. de­par­ture from Syria “very soon.” But “our pol­icy hasn’t changed,” White House spokes­woman Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said, and Trump re­mains fo­cused on de­feat­ing the Is­lamic State and on get­ting coun­tries in the Per­sian Gulf to pick up the fi­nan­cial and mil­i­tary bur­den of Syria sta­bi­liza­tion in the fu­ture.

The United States, France and Britain have all of­fered of­fi­cial jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for their joint mil­i­tary strike on Syr­ian chem­i­cal weapons sites last week­end, as well as their own ver­sion of what it means for Syria’s civil war.

In Lon­don, Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May re­jected po­lit­i­cal crit­i­cism that she acted on Trump’s “whims” and said that her de­ci­sion to send Royal Air Force war­planes to at­tack Syr­ian tar­gets was not done as a fa­vor to the U.S. pres­i­dent.

“We have not done this be­cause Pres­i­dent Trump asked us to do so,” May told the House of Com­mons on Mon­day. “We have done it be­cause it is in our na­tional in­ter­est to do so.”

Avert­ing an “over­whelm­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian catas­tro­phe is per­mis­si­ble under in­ter­na­tional law,” May said.

Macron and Trump also have cited the preser­va­tion of in­ter­na­tional law against the use of chem­i­cal weapons, al­though Trump has said his con­sti­tu­tional pow­ers to pro­tect “U.S. in­ter­ests” pro­vided au­thor­ity to or­der the strikes with­out con­gres­sional con­sul­ta­tion.

Rus­sia, Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad’s main backer, has said that an al­leged chem­i­cal at­tack on April 7 in the Da­m­as­cus sub­urb of Douma did not hap­pen, and that it was a provo­ca­tion staged by anti-As­sad rebels.

May said Bri­tish con­fi­dence that the Syian gov­ern­ment was re­spon­si­ble for the chem­i­cal at­tack, which killed dozens of civil­ians, was based on “a sig­nif­i­cant body of in­for­ma­tion — in­clud­ing in­tel­li­gence.” U.S. De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis also al­luded to un­spec­i­fied “in­tel­li­gence” that reached him last Fri­day and con­vinced him that the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment was in­dis­putably re­spon­si­ble for the at­tack.

In both cases, the ref­er­ence was based on elec­tronic in­ter­cepts ac­quired by France and passed on to the United States and Britain, U.S. of­fi­cials said. U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies de­clined to com­ment on the re­ported in­ter­cepts.

Al­though the ad­min­is­tra­tion has said its twofold strat­egy in Syria is to de­feat the Is­lamic State and cre­ate con­di­tions for a po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment of Syria’s civil war, it has also said its own di­rect in­volve­ment only con­cerns the for­mer.

On Sun­day, Macron said that de­spite Trump’s pledge to dis­en­gage from Syria, “we con­vinced him that it was nec­es­sary to stay there long-term.” That brought a quick de­nial from the White House and a Mon­day at­tempt by Macron to at least par­tially back­track.

Speak­ing at a news con­fer­ence dur­ing a visit to New Zealand, Macron said de­feat­ing the mil­i­tants re­mains the mil­i­tary ob­jec­tive for France and the United States, and that the mis­sion would end on “the day” that is ac­com­plished.

“I did not say” that ei­ther coun­try “would re­main mil­i­tar­ily en­gaged in Syria in the long term,” he said.

But Macron added that “I’m right to say that the United States of Amer­ica — be­cause it de­cided to carry out this in­ter­ven­tion with us — fully re­al­ized that our re­spon­si­bil­ity went be­yond the war on Daesh,” the Ara­bic term for the Is­lamic State, “and that we also have a hu­man­i­tar­ian re­spon­si­bil­ity on the ground and a long-term re­spon­si­bil­ity to build peace.”

Trump re­mains un­pop­u­lar in Britain and France. Both Macron and May are anx­ious not to ap­pear sub­servient to the pres­i­dent, even as they try to con­vince him of the value of their alliance.

That value, they hope, will pay div­i­dends next month, when Trump must de­cide whether to drop out of the Iran nu­clear deal to which all of them — along with Ger­many, Rus­sia and China — are sig­na­to­ries.

HAS­SAN AM­MAR/AP PHOTO

Syr­ian au­thor­i­ties dis­trib­ute bread, veg­eta­bles and pasta to res­i­dents in the town of Douma, the site of a sus­pected chem­i­cal weapons at­tack, near Da­m­as­cus.

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