U.S. President Donald Trump called on Arab leaders to do their share to fight “Islamist extremism” on Sunday in a speech that put the burden 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 United States, described the fight against terrorism as a battle between good and evil rather than a clash of civilizations.
“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 will say in the speech, according to excerpts of the speech released by the White House.
“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.”
Trump’s “America first” philosophy helped him win the 2016 election and has rattled allies who depend on U.S. support for their defense. The president, who is struggling to contain a brewing political scandal at home, made 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 will say in Saudi Arabia, the first stop on a nine-day tour that includes Israel, Italy and Belgium.
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 and tried to ban many from entering the United States.
The approach was also designed to contrast with former President Barack Obama, whom Trump has criticized for his handling of the fight against Islamic State.
“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,” Trump says.
“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 fulfills their part of the burden…the nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them.”
Trump received a warm welcome from Arab leaders, who set aside his campaign rhetoric about Muslims and focused on his desire to crack down on Iran’s influence in the region, a commitment they found wanting in Obama.
Trump’s signature phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” was not included in the speech excerpts.
JOINT FIGHT, ROYAL WELCOME
The United States and Gulf Arab countries agreed on Sunday to coordinate their efforts against the financing of terrorist groups, a key White House objective.
The president 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 center 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.
He praised Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, telling him, “You have done a tremendous job under trying circumstances.” Trump promised to schedule a trip to Egypt soon, and he singled out the Egyptian’s choice of footwear, a pair of shiny black shoes. “Love your shoes. Boy, those shoes,” he said.
Reinforcing his theme of U.S. 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 that the two nations had a lot in common and “there won’t be strain with this administration.” The king lauded the relationship and said it had led to “great stability in the region and prosperity.”
And in a meeting with the emir of Kuwait, Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, Trump noted Kuwait bought large amounts of U.S. military equipment. The Kuwaiti leader referred to Trump as “my brother.”
Trump’s Riyadh visit kicks off his first presidential trip abroad, with Saudi Arabia the first stop on a nine-day journey through the Middle East and Europe.
The speech comes as Trump tries to escape the fallout from his May 9 firing of former FBI Director James Comey amid accusations he was trying to stop a federal investigation into his campaign’s ties with Russia last year.
The New York Times reported Trump called Comey a “nut job” in a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week. The Washington Post said the probe had reached into the White House to include a Trump adviser, who was not named.
–Reuters, Steve Holland and Jeff Mason