France convinced Trump to stay in Syria, says Macron

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France convinced Trump to stay in Syria, says Macron
Photo: AFP

President Emmanuel Macron asserted Sunday that Paris had convinced Donald Trump to stay engaged in Syria "for the long-term", adding that French air strikes did not amount to a declaration of war against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.


A day after France joined the United States and Britain in launching  unprecedented strikes against regime targets, Macron insisted the intervention 
was legitimate and urged international powers to now push for a diplomatic  solution to the brutal seven-year war.

"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.

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.

"I assure you, we have convinced him that it is necessary to stay for the  long-term," he told veteran journalists Jean-Jacques Bourdin and Edwy Plenel,  charged with the two-hour grilling on BFMTV.

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."


Cold words for Orban

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.

Macron also took the opportunity to hit out at newly re-elected Hungarian  Prime Minister Victor Orban, whose views on Europe could hardly clash more  with his own vision of closer integration.

"I share none of his values, but there he is," Macron said, expressing  worry at the rise of what he called "illiberal democracies" in Europe.

Bold interview gamble

Macron's decision to volunteer for a marathon live TV grilling by two  combative veteran journalists was seen as a bold move ahead of the May 7  anniversary of his election victory, which swept away the traditional left and right. 

His approval ratings have fluctuated over a year in which he has pursued  major reforms, which he insists are his mandate despite staunch opposition  from some sectors of society.

Macron acknowledged the anger that his reforms, including a loosening of  France's famously rigid labour laws and a shake-up of heavily-indebted rail  operator SNCF, were causing frictions. 

"I hear all this anger," he said, notably in reference to rail workers who  have launched three months of rolling strikes. 

He said he had promised on the day of his election to "reconcile the  country", but said this "couldn't be done overnight".

He reserved little sympathy, however, for the students blocking several  university faculties across the country in protest at plans to make admissions  more selective.

He dismissed the protesters as "a minority" in most cases, repeating  accusations that "professional" trouble-makers were joining the blockades.


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