White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonoughDenis McDonoughThe Hill's 12:30 Report Obama, Trump display unity in White House meeting Dark days for Obama’s White House MORE on Sunday shot back at questions that the U.S. foreign policy may be at a tipping point, saying "where there is a threat to us, we will take action to protect our American people."

McDonough said on CNN's "State of the Union" that the U.S. cannot be an "occupying force" in places like Yemen or Syria, arguing plans to train security forces will be the best way forward.

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"We need to press political leaders to come up with political resolutions on ground," McDonough said.

McDonough said the best way to resolve the situation in Syria against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is by "supporting" Arab and Muslim fighters on the ground.

Fighters need to "win this fight for themselves and for their future," McDonough said.

In Yemen, McDonough said the U.S. is "worried about the political situation on ground," admitting it is not "robust" as it need to be to counter al Qaeda.

In order to prove successful, he said, the U.S. will have to continue "developing institutions to support the Yemenis."

McDonough stressed that the administration has been "very diligent" about its intelligence because its priority is to make sure threats do not "materialize on our shores."

He also defended ongoing U.S. nuclear negotiations with Iran, arguing Congress would "undercut" the president's actions if it passes sanctions legislation. 

"We now have robust international multilateral sanctions in place and very aggressive bilateral sanctions in place," McDonough said. 

"We can maintain that international unity by pressing through negotiations; it doesn't make any senses for Congress to prematurely act on legislation," he added.