President Donald Trump plans to deliver a forceful address here Sunday summoning the Muslim world to confront “the crisis of Islamist extremism” as he seeks to present a united front against global terrorism.
With Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and home to several of the religion’s holiest sites, as his backdrop, Trump will implore dozens of Muslim nations to stand with the United States against the oppression of women, the killing of innocent people and the persecution of Christians and Jews.
“This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different 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. This is a battle between good and evil,” Trump intends to say, according to excerpts of his prepared remarks released by the White House.
In the run-up to Trump’s visit, there has been considerable speculation about whether he would utter the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” in his speech, the centerpiece of his Saudi visit. On the campaign trail, Trump loudly criticized President Barack Obama for refusing to describe the terror threat in those terms.
It appears, according to the released excerpts, that Trump has decided to use a substitute phrase: “Islamist extremism.”
Describing the fight against terrorism, Trump plans to say, “That means honestly confronting the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires.”
Trump will be addressing a rare gathering of the leaders of about 50 Muslim nations at the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh on Sunday afternoon, his second day on a marathon foreign trip that will lead him next to Israel and then on to Europe.
By preaching religious tolerance, Trump is departing from his previously-stated views on Muslims. Anti-Muslim rhetoric and policies were hallmarks of his nationalist campaign; he proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States and proclaimed, “I think Islam hates us.”
Trump is seeking to strengthen U.S. alliances in the Middle East to isolate the Islamic State and other extremist forces. A few hours before his remarks, Trump and the leaders of six Persian Gulf states reached an agreement to crack down on terror financing, including the prosecution of individuals who continue sending money to militants.
The memorandum of understanding – between the United States and the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia as well as Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – includes the creation of a center in Riyadh to fight extremism.
Sitting next to Saudi King Salman in an ornate room at Riyadh’s conference center, Trump witnessed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef exchange documents and shake hands to formalize the agreement.
Dina Powell, Trump’s deputy national security adviser, called the new agreement the “farthest reaching commitment to not finance terrorist organizations,” and said that the Treasury Department would be monitoring it along with the Gulf governments.
“The unique piece of it is that every single one of them are signatories on how they’re responsible and will actually prosecute the financing of terrorism, including individuals,” Powell told reporters.
In his remarks Sunday, Trump intends to deliver a dark decree to the leaders in attendance.
“Religious leaders must make this absolutely clear: Barbarism will deliver you no glory – piety to evil will bring you no dignity,” Trump plans to say. “If you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief, and your soul will be condemned.”
White House officials have described Trump’s speech as starkly and deliberately different from the address Obama delivered to the Muslim world in Cairo in 2009. Many of the themes are the same, calling for the world to move beyond religious and cultural differences to address global threats.
But where Obama waxed poetic, speaking of “the things we hold in our hearts” and praised the accomplishments of Islam, Trump plans to be more direct in calling on other nations to share the burden of combating terrorism.
“America is prepared to stand with you – in pursuit of shared interests and common security,” Trump plans to say. “But the nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them. The nations of the Middle East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their countries, and for their children.”
Outside funding for the Islamic State, al-Qaida and other groups has come primarily from the Persian Gulf. U.S. officials in recent years have said that they believe the Gulf states have cracked down and virtually eliminated money coming from governments in the region. Instead, they believe certain wealthy individuals – primarily in Kuwait and to a lesser degree Qatar – remain funnels for money or are themselves financing the groups.
A Kuwaiti cabinet minister was forced to resign in 2014 after the United States complained about his activities, and regional governments have instituted legal crackdowns, with varying degrees of success, to stem the practice. All have signed agreements in the past to stop it.
The Islamic State, in particular, has largely funded itself through extortion and taxes in the areas it controls in Syria and Iraq, and through revenue for oil it sells clandestinely. But those sources, along with kidnapping for ransom, have diminished as the militants have lost territory.
The warm embrace of Trump that was on festive display on his first day in Riyadh continued during a trio of bilateral meetings the president held Sunday at the palatial Ritz Carlton hotel.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi praised Trump and invited him to visit Egypt, which Trump said he intends to do. Through a translator, Sissi said, “You are a unique personality that is capable of doing the impossible.”
“I agree!” Trump replied, as his advisers and others looking on laughed.
Trump went on to compliment Sissi on his fashion, telling the Egyptian leader, “Love your shoes. Boy, those shoes. Man . . .”
Trump met with Sissi earlier this spring in Washington, breaking an Obama-era ban on receiving the Egyptian leader in the White House because of his crackdowns on political and civil expression since taking power in a 2014 coup.
Trump called Sissi “my friend” and thanked him for his help with the release of American aid worker Aya Hijazi, 30, who had been imprisoned in Cairo.
“We’ve really been through a lot together positively,” Trump said.
Sissi told him, “Egypt is secure and stable and is going very well with the cooperation of the United States.”
Trump also met with the emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, and noted the long friendship between the two countries and the prospect of future trade.
“One of the things that we will discuss is the purchase of lots of beautiful military equipment, because nobody makes it like the United States,” Trump told reporters ahead of his talks with the Qatari leader. “And for us that means jobs and it also means, frankly, great security back here, which we want.”
Trump was accompanied in the bilateral sessions by Tillerson as well as Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, National Economic Council director Gary Cohn and Powell.
White House chief of staff Reince Priebus joined for some of the meetings, while Jason Greenblatt, who advises Trump on Israel and is a former executive at the Trump Organization, joined the president in his meeting with Sissi.
Trump met with the king of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and told him that although relations between Bahrain and the United States had been strained in recent years, “there won’t be strain with this administration.”
The king told Trump that their nations have worked together for more than a century and developed “a very good foundation of mutual understanding and strategy” that has “led to a great stability in the region.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Karen Deyoung, Philip Rucker