Trump meeting with Arab leaders ahead of major speech

Trump meeting with Arab leaders ahead of major speech
President Donald Trump will call for Muslim unity in the fight against extremism on Sunday, as he works to build relationships with Arab leaders.
4 min read
Trump began a series of meetings with Arab leaders [AFP]

US President Donald Trump is to urge the Islamic world to confront extremism in a highly anticipated speech on Sunday in front of dozens of Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia.

According to excerpts released by the White House, Trump will say the time has come for "honestly confronting the crisis of Islamist extremism", calling on religious leaders to condemn extremist attacks.

But Trump, who has been accused of anti-Islamic rhetoric in the past, will also extend a hand by insisting that "this is not a battle between different faiths".

"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 will say.

The speech comes on the second day of a visit to Saudi Arabia, part of Trump's first foreign tour as president that will take him next to Israel and the Palestinian Territories and then to Europe.

The first day saw the announcement of hundreds of billions of dollars in trade deals, welcome news for Trump as he faces mounting troubles at home linked with the probe into alleged Russian meddling during last year's election campaign.

Among the agreements was an arms deal worth almost $110 billion with Saudi Arabia, described as the largest in US history, which US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said was aimed in particular at countering "malign Iranian influence".

Trump to 'be very blunt'

The White House has sought to draw a clear distinction during the visit with Trump's predecessor Barack Obama, who Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies saw as lecturing and soft on their Shia rival Iran.

Unlike the Obama administration - which would often raise concerns over civil liberties with longstanding Arab allies - Trump has made no mention of human rights during his visit so far.

"We are not here to lecture - we are not here to tell other people how to live... or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership - based on shared interests and values," Trump will say.

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.
- Donald Trump

A White House official had said Trump would be "very blunt in talking about the need to confront extremism", pointing to "the fact that many in the Muslim world have not only not done enough, they've actively abetted this extremism". 

"America is prepared to stand with you," Trump will say. "But the nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them."

Some 35 heads of state and government from Muslim-majority countries are in Riyadh for the Arab Islamic American Summit, mainly from Sunni states friendly to Saudi Arabia.

Much of the focus during the summit will be on countering what Gulf states see as the threat from Iran, which opposes Saudi Arabia in a range of regional conflicts from Syria to Yemen.

'Islam hates us'

Trump's speech has been touted as a major event - along the lines of a landmark address to the Islamic world by Obama in Cairo in 2009.

It will be especially sensitive given tensions sparked by the Trump administration's attempted travel ban targeting several Muslim-majority nations and his previous remarks on Islam.

In December 2015, Trump told a campaign rally he was calling for a "total shutdown" of Muslims entering the United States "until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on".

His words shocked many Americans, with Trump detractors noting that the US Constitution prohibits religious discrimination.

"I think Islam hates us. There is a tremendous hatred there. We have to get to the bottom of it," Trump said in a March 2016 interview with CNN.

Still, Trump has been welcomed warmly in Saudi Arabia, where he and First Lady Melania Trump were given an extravagant reception by King Salman and the rest of the Saudi royal family.

The trade deals announced on Saturday were said to be worth in excess of $380 billion and Trump proudly declared the first day of his visit "tremendous".

On Sunday he began a series of meetings with other Arab leaders, including Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Bahrain's King Hamad.