US President Donald Trump has called on Arab leaders to do their share to fight “Islamist extremism” in a speech that put the responsibility on the region to combat militant groups while urging unity among religions.
Trump, who generated controversy with his push to ban many Muslims from entering the US, described the fight against terrorism as a battle between good and evil rather than a “clash of civilisations”.
Trump’s Riyadh visit kicks off his first presidential trip abroad. Saudi Arabia is the first stop on a nine-day journey through the Middle East and Europe.
What Trump said
Speaking to leaders from 55 Muslim countries in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, Trump said Muslim-majority nations must take the lead in combating radicalisation.
“This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it,” Trump said in his speech.
“That means honestly confronting the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires. And it means standing together against the murder of innocent Muslims, the oppression of women, the persecution of Jews and the slaughter of Christians.”
NBC News (@NBCNews) 21 mai 2017
He also described Arab nations as having suffered the deadliest toll of “fanatical violence” and said a humanitarian and security disaster is spreading in the region.
President Trump in Saudi Arabia: “The birthplace of civilization is waiting to begin a new renaissance” https://t.co/OYYzLzOzLO— NBC News (@NBCNews) 21 mai 2017
The US president also made it clear in his address that Washington would partner with the Middle East but expected more action in return.
“Terrorism has spread across the world. But the path to peace begins right here, on this ancient soil, in this sacred land,” he said at the gathering in Saudi Arabia.
“We are not here to lecture, we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be or how to worship.”
“But we can only overcome this evil if the forces of good are united and strong and if everyone in this room does their fair share and fulfils their part of the burden..the nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them.”
The speech is part of an effort to redefine his relationship with the Muslim world after Trump frequently attacked Muslims on the campaign trail last year.
He tried to ban many from entering the United States.
The latest approach is also designed to contrast with former President Barack Obama, whom Trump has criticised for his handling of the fight against ISIL.
How was the message received?
Warmly. Arab leaders seem to have appreciated Trump’s decision to set aside his campaign rhetoric and focus on his desire to crack down on Iran’s influence in the region.
The feeling is this was found wanting in Obama.
The US and Gulf Arab countries agreed on Sunday to coordinate their efforts against the financing of terrorist groups, a key White House objective.
Trump also convened the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council as part of his effort to counter Iran with a NATO-like Arab force.
Trump and the leaders will establish a centre aimed at cracking down on the ability of Islamic militants to spread their message.
Trump’s welcome in the region was put on display during a series of individual meetings with Arab leaders.
Trump praised the US relationship with Kuwait during a meeting with the country’s emir on Sunday.
Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah invited the US president to visit.
Trump praised Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. “You have done a tremendous job under trying circumstances,” he said.
Trump promised to schedule a trip to Egypt soon before singling out the Egyptian leader’s choice of footwear, a pair of black, shiny shoes.
“Love your shoes. Boy, those shoes,” he said.
Reinforcing his theme of US economic deals, Trump told Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani they would discuss “lots of beautiful military equipment because nobody makes it like the United States.”
To Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, Trump declared the two nations had a lot in common.
“There won’t be strain with this administration,” he said.