Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham said President Donald Trump reassured him about his plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and his commitment to defeating Islamic State during a White House meeting on Sunday.
"We talked about Syria. He told me some things I didn't know that made me feel a lot better about where we're headed in Syria," Graham told reporters outside the White House after the meeting. "We still have some differences but I will tell you that the president is thinking long and hard about Syria - how to withdraw our forces but at the same time achieve our national security interests."
President Donald Trump is reconsidering pulling troops out of Syria, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said after meeting President Donald Trump for lunch on Sunday.
"After discussions with the President and (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph) Dunford, I never felt better about where we are headed. I think we're slowing things down in a smart way," Graham said.
Graham said Trump’s trip to Iraq to visit U.S. troops was an eye-opener, specifically when commanders there told the president ISIS is not “completely destroyed.”
"I feel better about Syria than I felt before I had lunch. The president is taking this really seriously. The trip to Iraq was well timed," he said.
Trump earlier this month abruptly ordered the withdrawal of 2,000 American troops from Syria, a move that rattled allies and resulted in Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ resignation.
"We've been fighting for a long time in Syria," Trump said at the time. "I've been president for almost two years, and we've really stepped it up. And we've won against ISIS. We've been them, and we've beaten them badly. And now it's time for our troops to come back home."
Graham took to the Senate floor to deride Trump’s decision as “dishonorable” and “a stain on the honor of the United States,” but said the president Sunday assured him he would get the job done in Syria, “and I assured him that nobody has done more to defeat ISIS than he has. We are inside the 10-yard line.”
"We still have some differences but I will tell you that the president is thinking long and hard about Syria - how to withdraw our forces but at the same time achieve our national security interests," Graham said.
Asked if Trump had agreed to any slowing down of the troop withdrawal, Graham said: "I think the president's very committed to making sure that when we leave Syria, that ISIS is completely defeated."
He said Trump's trip to Iraq last week was an eye-opener and he understood the need to "finish the job" with Islamic State, also known as ISIS.
"I think the president has come up with a plan with his generals that makes sense to me," Graham said.
Graham said later on Twitter that Trump would make sure that any withdrawal from Syria "will be done in a fashion to ensure: 1)ISIS is permanently destroyed 2)Iran doesn't fill in the back end. And 3)our Kurdish allies are protected."
The Pentagon says it is considering plans for a "deliberate and controlled withdrawal." One option, according to a person familiar with the discussions, is for a 120-day pullout period.
Graham told reporters that Trump was committed to making sure Turkey did not clash with the Kurdish YPG forces once U.S. troops leave Syria, and was assuring the NATO ally that it would have a buffer zone in the region to help protect its own interests.
Turkey views the YPG as a branch of its own Kurdish separatist movement and is threatening to launch an offensive against the group, igniting fears of significant civilian casualties.
U.S. commanders planning the U.S. withdrawal are recommending that YPG fighters battling Islamic State be allowed to keep U.S.-supplied weapons, according to U.S. officials.
That proposal would likely anger Turkey, where Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, holds talks this week.
Trump decided on the Syria withdrawal in a phone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, ignoring the advice of top national security aides and without consulting lawmakers or U.S. allies participating in anti-Islamic State operations. The decision prompted Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to resign.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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