In a highly anticipated address at the Arab Islamic American Summit, President Donald Trump called for the nations of the Middle East to take a leading role in combating terrorism while trying to make clear that he is not at war with Islam as a faith but with terrorism specifically.
Trump on Sunday addressed leaders of Muslim countries gathered in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, amid his first foreign trip as president.
“America is prepared to stand with you in pursuit of shared interests and common security, but the nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them,” Trump said. “It is a choice between two futures, a choice America cannot make for you.”
He encouraged the leaders repeatedly to “drive out” extremists: “Drive them out. Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land. Drive them out of this Earth.”
On the campaign trail, Trump had said “Islam hates us” and proposed a ban on all Muslims entering the United States. But on Sunday he avoided that kind of Islamophobic rhetoric, and specifically the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” which he had often trumpeted at rallies. He did, at times, seem to stumble over the words “Islamic” (meaning Muslim) and “Islamist” (meaning fundamentalist or militant).
Overall, Trump appeared stay on script, and his rhetoric was notably tame for a president who is known for speaking off the cuff.
Here are a few other highlights of the speech:
Trump’s speech was light on the causes of terrorism (economic, religious, or historical), but he spent several minutes focused on a key enemy of the United States and his Saudi hosts: Iran. Trump blamed Iran for “fueling the fire of sectarian terror,” for providing safe haven to terrorists, and for standing behind Bashar Al-Assad in Syria.
The harsh remarks came just a day after Trump expressed openness to speaking directly with Iranian leaders.
Trump reiterated a promise he’d made earlier on Sunday to the emir of Qatar to provide “lots of beautiful military equipment” to help the countries of the Middle East fight terror and whose production he said would create jobs in the United States. He announced that he would seek further deals between the Saudis and American defense companies. On Saturday, Trump signed a $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, brokered in part by his son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Trump praised the counterterrorism efforts of a number of the nations present at the summit and pointed to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen, a conflict that may only be strengthening the influence of al-Qaeda there.
Trump praised Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon for their role in taking in refugees from Syria’s civil war.
“The surge of migrants and refugees living — and just living so poorly,” Trump said, “that they’re forced to leave the Middle East depletes the human capital needed to build stable societies and economies.”
Trump himself has tried to bar all refugees, including Syrians, from entering the United States as part of his now-blocked travel bans.
VICE News will update this post with the video and full text of President Trump’s remarks when they become available.
Cover: AP Photo/Evan Vucci