Acting Defense chief calls Graham an 'ally' after tense exchange

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump's reelection message: Promises kept The Hill's Morning Report - Trump's reelection message: Promises kept Overnight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran MORE on Thursday responded to reports of tension between himself and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSecond ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators Second ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators Meghan McCain clashes with Joy Behar as the 'sacrificial Republican' on 'The View' MORE over the Trump administration's Syria strategy, calling the South Carolina Republican an "ally."

“I always think of Sen. Graham as an ally and we have shared interests,” Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon prior to meeting with Belgium's defense minister, Didier Reynders.

“He is a problem solver and I am very confident we will come together with solutions for Syria,” Shanahan added of Graham.

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The acting Pentagon chief's comments came a day after Graham told The Washington Post that he confronted the top Defense Department official while at the Munich Security Conference last week.

Graham said he told Shanahan at a briefing that the Trump administration's plan to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria by the end of April was “the dumbest f---ing idea I’ve ever heard.”

If that was the policy, Graham added, “I am now your adversary, not your friend.”

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBooker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' Booker hits Biden's defense of remarks about segregationist senators: 'He's better than this' Trump says Democrats are handing out subpoenas 'like they're cookies' MORE in December abruptly declared victory against the ISIS terrorist organization in Syria and announced that the more than 2,000 U.S. troops in the country would be brought home.

The move alarmed lawmakers, defense officials, and allies in the region, all of whom where apparently caught off guard. European allies were rankled, too, as NATO troops rely on the services of U.S. forces to do their job.

Graham has been one of the harshest Capitol Hill critics of Trump’s Syria withdrawal plan, which also prompted the resignation of former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump's reelection message: Promises kept The Hill's Morning Report - Trump's reelection message: Promises kept Shanahan drama shocks Capitol Hill, leaving Pentagon rudderless MORE.

Shanahan on Thursday also pushed back on comments that European allies rejected a request from the Trump administration to stay in Syria as an observer force after U.S. troops withdraw from the country.

“No,” Shanahan said when asked if it was true that European allies declined such an ask.

Shanahan then turned the question over to his Belgium counterpart, who attended meetings with Shanahan at the Munich Security Conference last week.

“We are just looking for the different capacity that we have to take part in such a process,” Reynders said. He added that allies have started to plan for a possible U.S. withdrawal and are open to discuss a “collaboration with the Defense Department.”

“It was a very open discussion in Munich about that, but without the refusal from all different countries like you said,” he said.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate to vote on blocking Trump's Saudi arms deal as soon as this week There is a severe physician shortage and it will only worsen Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties MORE (D-N.J.), who also attended the Munich Security Conference, told The Post that European allies likely won’t commit new troops to Syria unless Trump promises to leaving some U.S. troops there first.