Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said Hillary Clinton's plans for conflict-ravaged Syria would "lead to World War III."
Trump said defeating the Islamic State militant group is a higher priority than persuading Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down — a long-held U.S. strategy. He made the comments in an interview with Reuters in Florida on Tuesday.
Most polls show that Trump is lagging the Democratic nominee in the important battleground state, as well as nationally, ahead of the Nov. 8 election. Trump disputes these and has called them "rigged."
"What we should do is focus on ISIS. We should not be focusing on Syria," he said, using an acronym for the group that is now on the defensive from Iraqi and coalition forces after taking over swaths of Syria and neighboring Iraq.
"You’re going to end up in World War III over Syria if we listen to Hillary Clinton. You’re not fighting Syria any more, you’re fighting Syria, Russia and Iran, all right? Russia is a nuclear country, but a country where the nukes work as opposed to other countries that talk,” he added.
Clinton has proposed no-fly zones in Syria, raising fears that it could lead to a conflict with Russia, an ally of Assad's regime.
The Democratic nominee's team dismissed Trump’s comments.
"Once again, he is parroting Putin's talking points and playing to Americans' fears, all while refusing to lay out any plans of his own for defeating ISIS or alleviating humanitarian suffering in Syria," Clinton’s foreign policy spokesman Jesse Lehrich said in a statement to Reuters.
Trump also told the news agency in the interview, at his Trump National Doral golf resort in Florida, that recent anti-U.S. comments by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte showed "a lack of respect for our country."
He criticized President Obama for deteriorating conditions between the two nations, saying Obama "wants to focus on his golf game" instead of engaging with world leaders.