US President Donald Trump speaks to members of the American military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on December 26. Photo: AFP
US President Donald Trump speaks to members of the American military during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on December 26, 2018. Photo: AFP

An influential American senator who met with US President Donald Trump said he now understands what is at stake in Syria and has agreed to put his plans to immediately withdraw all US troops from Syria on pause.

“After discussions with the president and [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph) Dunford, I never felt better about where we are headed. I think we’re slowing things down in a smart way,” the South Carolina Republican said, adding later: “I think we’re in a pause situation where we are reevaluating what’s the best way to achieve the president’s objective.”

Graham said during Trump’s trip to Iraq that commanders on the ground informed him that ISIS is not “completely destroyed,” which he said was an “eye-opening” experience for the president.

“The president assured me he is going to make sure he gets the job done, and I assured him that nobody has done more to defeat ISIS than he has. We are inside the 10-yard line,” Graham told reporters at the White House, where he’d just had a two-hour lunch with the president.

Graham, who was a harsh critic of Trump’s plans to bring home US troops from Syria when the decision was announced earlier in December, said he was feeling optimistic.

“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.

The White House did not immediately respond when asked for more information about updated plans to bring US troops home from Syria.

Earlier in the day, Graham said that withdrawing US troops from Syria could directly result in the deaths of Kurdish people there.

“There are three things important for this country. Number one, make sure that ISIS never comes back in Syria,” Graham said to CNN’s Dana Bash on State of the Union. “We need to keep our troops there. They’re inside the 10-yard line in defeating ISIS, but we’re not there yet. If we leave now, the Kurds are going to get slaughtered.”

“How are you going to convince President Trump to do that?” Bash asked.

“I’m going to talk to him at lunch,” Graham replied.

Trump’s decision earlier this month to order his staff to execute the “full” and “rapid” withdrawal of US military from Syria was met with fierce criticism from both sides of the aisle. Hours after the announcement, Graham described the move as a “disaster” and “a stain on the honor of the United States.”

On Sunday, he warned against the transfer of security in Syria from the US to Russian and Turkish forces, a move that could leave the Syrian Kurds, whom the United States has assisted and armed, at risk from both ISIS and Turkey.

– with reporting by CNN and Agence France-Presse

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