GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Days after asserting that China is involved in the fight in Syria — and after freshly offering to prove it with his own intelligence — Republican presidential contender Ben Carson acknowledged Friday that there are no Chinese troops in that conflict.
His campaign issued a statement addressing China's "longstanding and well-documented security ties to Syria" while saying "Dr. Carson does not believe China is currently fighting in or deploying troops to Syria."
The statement followed Carson's comments at a South Carolina campaign stop that he had information, better than that available to the White House, showing China's involvement in Syria. "I'm surprised my sources are better than theirs," he said.
But a clarification of sorts soon followed.
The campaign statement said Carson was talking about "various military weapons and equipment that Syria is using in the current conflict," and said he'd never claimed Chinese troops had been deployed to Syria.
China's history of selling arms to Syria and other countries is well known, however, and not something that requires proof. Carson suggested a much more direct role in the Republican presidential debate Tuesday, when he declared in a discussion about Russian and U.S. military activities in Syria that "the Chinese are there" as well.
National security adviser Susan Rice said in response that "I have not seen any evidence of Chinese military involvement in Syria" and said she did not know what Carson was talking about, unless he meant just a diplomatic presence.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest also was confounded when asked about Carson on Friday. "Maybe it violates my job description as a spokesman to be speechless," he said, "but I guess in this case I am."
Carson raised eyebrows in the debate when he introduced China as a player in Syria while commenting on the work of U.S. special forces in the region and Russian President Vladimir Putin's aggressive military posture.
"We have to oppose him there in an effective way," he said. "We also must recognize that it's a very complex place. You know, the Chinese are there, as well as the Russians, and you have all kinds of factions there."
Carson on Friday also repeated his vague promises to defeat Islamic State militants who have expanded their footholds in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, and he said he would scrap the Iran nuclear weapons accord reached earlier this year.
In a forum hosted by South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Rep. Trey Gowdy, Carson said Obama has a feckless approach that will allow ISIS fighters to "eventually reach the point where they'd have nuclear weapons." He said he would use "every resource available to use — economic, cover, overt ... to eliminate them first."
As for the agreement with Iran, Carson said "a kindergartner could get a better deal."
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
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