French PM questions U.S. hesitations over northeast Syria

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe attends a debate on migration at the National Assembly in Paris, France, October 7, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s prime minister defended his country’s policy in northeastern Syria on Tuesday saying that, unlike U.S. hesitations, Paris’ priority remained to defeat Islamic State and preserve Kurdish-ked forces fighting the militant group.

The U.S. decision to withdraw from northeastern Syria leaving Turkey to launch an offensive against Kurdish militants in the region has rattled allies, including France, one of Washington’s main partners in the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State.

Responding in parliament to criticism of the French government from some opposition lawmakers for not publicly defending Kurdish forces in the face of a possible Turkish offensive, Edouard Philippe said Paris had not wavered on its policy unlike Washington.

“The fight against Daesh (Islamic State) is not over and continues alongside the (Kurdish-led) Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF),” Phillipe told lawmakers.

“Saying things with constancy and coherence is preferable to reacting to obvious hesitations from certain players notably our American friends,” Philippe said, alluding to differences in the U.S. administration.

President Donald Trump denied on Tuesday that he had abandoned the Kurdish forces. However, he praised Turkey as a trade partner, in a softening of tone hours after threatening Ankara’s economy if it acted “off limits” in Syria.

Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Alison Williams