Emmanuel Macron has clarified a suggestion that he was responsible for shifting the US position on Syria, after the White House rebutted an earlier comment by the French president that he had “convinced” Donald Trump to maintain a military presence there.
After Macron said in a live TV interview on Sunday night that he had changed Trump’s mind on rapidly withdrawing US troops, the White House issued a statement saying the US view had not changed and Trump still wanted US forces to leave “as quickly as possible” and “completely crush Isis”.
Macron said on Monday he had “never said” that either the US or France would stay engaged militarily over the long term. He said the French and US positions were in line but also had the same long-term target of building a stable and peaceful Syria.
“We have one military objective and only one: the war against Isis,” he told a press conference. “The White House is right to recall that the military engagement is against [Isis] and will finish the day that the war against [Isis] has been completed. I suggested no change last night.”
However, Macron said that by joining forces with France and the UK for Saturday’s strikes, the US “fully realised that our responsibility goes beyond the war against Isis and that there is also a humanitarian responsibility and a responsibility to build peace over the long term”.
France and other European nations had been alarmed by Trump’s comments about ending America’s presence in Syria, which contradicted messages from US military leaders. Despite a string of military victories that have driven the group back, Isis militants are still in control of pockets of land in Syria.
This weekend’s strikes on Syria – in which the US, France and Britain launched 105 missiles targeting three chemical weapons facilities in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack in Douma on 7 April – marked a new phase in Macron’s presidency.
It was the first time that France’s youngest modern president, who has been in power for a year, has used his constitutional role as commander-in-chief of the army to order a military strike.
As Theresa May made a statement in the House of Commons about the strikes following criticism from opposition MPs that they were carried out without parliamentary approval, Macron also defended his decision to commit French forces to the attack.
Jean-Luc Melenchon of the hard-left La France Insoumise condemned the strikes, as did the centre-right Les Républicains, whose leader, Laurent Wauquiez, said he “did not believe in punitive strikes”. The leader of the far-right Front National, Marine Le Pen, said Macron had not displayed any evidence on the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.
At his Monday press conference, Macron said France had acted with “international legitimacy”, adding that despite not being sanctioned by the UN the operation was legitimate because Syria should have destroyed its chemical weapons arsenal under a 2013 UN resolution.
In his Sunday night interview, Macron said his mandate to order a military strike “is given democratically to the president by the people in the presidential election”.
Macron 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.”
He said failing to enforce red lines had led Russian authorities to think “these people from the international community – they are nice, they are weak”. “He [Russian president Vladimir Putin] has understood it’s not the case any more.”