In a testy exchange on the sidelines of the NATO summit in London Tuesday, President Trump clashed with French President Emmanuel Macron about Macron’s criticism of the 70-year-old Western alliance — and over what to do with 2,000 foreign Islamic State fighters being held in Syria.
Asked by a reporter whether Macron had committed to allowing the captured French ISIS fighters to return to his country, Trump said he hadn’t asked.
“Would you like some nice ISIS fighters?” Trump said, turning to Macron. “I could give them to you. You could take every one you want.”
Macron did not appear to be amused.
“Let’s be serious,” Macron replied. “A very large number of fighters you have on the ground — ISIS fighters coming from Syria, Iraq and the region. It is true you have foreign fighters coming from Europe, but this is a tiny minority of the overall problem we have.
“And I think the No. 1 priority, because it’s not yet finished, is to get rid of ISIS,” Macron continued. “It’s not yet done. I’m sorry to say that. You still have fighters in Syria and Iraq, and more and more.”
Trump has claimed repeatedly that U.S. forces defeated “100 percent” of the ISIS caliphate, and used it to justify the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Syria at the border with Turkey in October.
But while the terror group lost its “final stronghold” in eastern Syria in March, the U.S. military issued a report in June stating ISIS had been able to “regroup and sustain operations” in Iraq and Syria.
Trump also falsely claimed ISIS prisoners being held in Syria are “mostly from Europe.”
In August, James Jeffrey, Trump’s special envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, said that roughly 8,000 of about 10,000 terrorist fighters being held in northeastern Syria were Iraqi or Syrian nationals. The rest were from other countries.
Macron said the withdrawal of U.S. troops, and Turkey’s invasion, has led to a “destabilization” of the region, making it “more difficult to fix the situation.”
“Make no mistake,” Macron added. “Your No. 1 problem [is] not the foreign fighters. It is the ISIS fighters in the region.”
Trump turned back to the cameras to respond to Macron.
“This is why he’s a great politician,” he said of Macron. “Because that was one of the greatest nonanswers I’ve ever heard.”
In an interview with the Economist magazine last month, Macron said the United States is “turning its back on us.”
“What we are currently experiencing is the brain death of NATO,” Macron said after Trump assured Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he would withdraw U.S. troops from northern Syria ahead of Turkey’s planned invasion.
Before their sit-down Tuesday, Trump called the French president’s comments “very, very nasty.”
“You can’t just go around making statements like that about NATO, it’s very disrespectful,” Trump said, in a turnabout from his position as a candidate and then as president, in which he called NATO “obsolete,” “too expensive” and “unfair” to the United States.
Macron, for his part, stood by his “brain death” remark.
“My statement created some reactions,” he said. “I do stand by.”
Read more from Yahoo News: