Muslim nations 'must take the lead' in combating extremism, Trump says in Riyadh
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US President Donald Trump addressed the leaders of dozens of Muslim-majority countries in Riyadh on Sunday in a major speech that is being seen as an effort to reset US relations with the Muslim world.
Trump vowed US support in the battle against extremism but called on Middle Eastern nations to step up their efforts to combat radicalisation and to deny militants refuge on their territories, saying that Muslim-majority nations “must take the lead”.
“America is prepared to stand with you – in pursuit of shared interests and common security,” he said.
“But the nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them,” he continued. “The nations of the Middle East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their countries and, frankly, for their families and for their children.”
“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.”
Trump's speech served as the highlight of his two-day visit to Saudi Arabia, his first official visit overseas as US president.
He said regional leaders must prevent terrorists from gaining a foothold on their territories.
"Drive them out,” he exhorted. “Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities."
"Honestly confronting" Islamist extremism and terrorism "means standing together against the murder of innocent Muslims, the oppression of women, the persecution of Jews, and the slaughter of Christians", he said.
Trump called for clerics and imams to address the problem head on by warning the faithful against choosing the path of violence.
"Religious leaders must make this absolutely clear: Barbarism will deliver you no glory – piety to evil will bring you no dignity," he said.
"If you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief, and your soul will be fully condemned."
Trump went on to say there is much untapped potential across the Middle East that is "held at bay by bloodshed and terror”.
“There can be no co-existence with this violence,” he added.
Trump portrayed the struggle as one against "evil" that is shared by all "decent people" of any religion.
"This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it. This is a battle between good and evil."
The current refugee crisis is a tragedy of “epic proportions” that has become a “humanitarian and security disaster”, Trump said.
And it is Muslim nations that have "borne the brunt of the killings and the worst of the destruction in this wave of fanatical violence".
The “true toll” of the militancy promoted by the Islamic State group, al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas and others can be seen in the "generations of vanished dreams”, he said.
“This region should not be a place from which refugees flee, but to which newcomers flock."
Trump praised regional powers including Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and United Arab Emirates for their efforts in combating terrorism.
But he singled out Iran for sowing the seeds of "instability" in the region by providing terrorists with “safe harbour [and] financial backing".
"From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms and trains terrorists, militias and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region," Trump said.
He urged Arab and Muslim leaders to “isolate” Iran until the leadership in Tehran made progress in becoming an international partner.
"Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate it ... and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they so richly deserve."
"Terrorism has spread all across the world. But the path to peace begins right here, on this ancient soil, in this sacred land," Trump said.
Ali Shihabi, executive director of the Arabia Foundation, a think tank focused on the geopolitics of the Arabian Peninsula, agreed that Iran has helped destabilise the region by becoming “an enabler of ISIS (Islamic State group) and al Qaeda”.
In an interview with FRANCE 24’s Nadia Charbit, Shihabi said both Iran and Syria “have cooperated, quietly, with ISIS because ISIS doesn’t threaten them”. Jihadist militants “don’t threaten Shia heartlands, they only threaten Sunni heartlands” because they ultimately want control of the Muslim holy places in Saudi Arabia, he said.
Trump's visit comes as controversy has doggedly pursued his administration in recent weeks. Amid continuing investigations into the extent of his team’s ties to Moscow, Trump’s decision to fire FBI director James Comey – who had been overseeing the Russia probe – and reports that he shared top secret information with Russian officials have prompted a new round of scrutiny.
The pledges of friendship and cooperation made in Riyadh also mark something of a reversal for Trump. While campaigning for the presidency last year, Trump vilified the kingdom as a country that wants to keep “women as slaves and to kill gays” while criticising rival Hillary Clinton for accepting Saudi donations to her family's foundation.
In March of last year Trump shared his belief that many Muslims harbour "hatred" for the United States.
"I think Islam hates us," he said in an interview with CNN. "There's something there. There's a tremendous hatred there."