DORAL (Florida) • US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said Democrat Hillary Clinton's plan for Syria would "lead to World War III" because of the potential for conflict with military forces from nuclear-armed Russia.
In an interview focused largely on foreign policy, Mr Trump said defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is a higher priority than persuading Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, playing down a long-held goal of United States policy.
Mr Trump questioned how Mrs Clinton would negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin after demonising him; blamed President Barack Obama for a downturn in US relations with the Philippines under its new President Rodrigo Duterte; bemoaned a lack of Republican unity behind him, and said he would easily win the election if party leaders would support him.
On Syria's civil war, he said Mrs Clinton could drag the US into a world war with a more aggressive posture towards resolving the conflict. Mrs Clinton has called for the establishment of a no-fly zone and "safe zones" on the ground to protect non-combatants. Some analysts fear that protecting those zones could bring the US into direct conflict with Russian fighter jets.
"What we should do is focus on ISIS. We should not be focusing on Syria," said Mr Trump as he dined on fried eggs and sausage at his Trump National Doral golf resort. "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 said.
Mrs Clinton's campaign dismissed the criticism, noting that national security experts from both parties have denounced Mr Trump as unfit to be commander-in-chief. "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."
On Russia, Mr Trump again knocked Mrs Clinton's handling of US-Russian relations while secretary of state and said her harsh criticism of Mr Putin raised questions about "how she is going to go back and negotiate with this man who she has made to be so evil" if she wins the presidency.
On the deterioration of ties with the Philippines, Mr Trump aimed his criticism at Mr Obama, saying the President "wants to focus on his golf game" rather than engage with world leaders.
Since assuming office, Mr Duterte has been openly hostile towards the US, rejecting criticism of his violent anti-drug clampdown and using an expletive to describe Mr Obama.
The interview comes less than two weeks before the Nov 8 election, with Mr Trump trailing badly in the polls. He also said his supporters were upset with Republican Party leadership. "The people are very angry with the leadership of this party, because this is an election that we will win 100 per cent if we had support from the top.
"I think we are going to win it anyway."
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