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Sun 21 May 2017 07:38 PM

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Trump urges Muslim countries to ensure "terrorists find no sanctuary on their soil"

"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"

Trump urges Muslim countries to ensure "terrorists find no sanctuary on their soil"
(MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The war on terrorism isn’t a battle between different faiths, US President Donald Trump said in a keynote speech he delivered on Sunday in Riyadh, toning down rhetoric that had fueled concerns America was at war with Islam.

On the second day of his inaugural foreign trip, where he’s been hailed by some Arab leaders as a “dear brother” and a man with “unique personality”, Trump told Middle Eastern allies not to wait for US help to crush terrorist groups.

“This is a battle between good and evil,” he said. “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.”

Trump called on all countries to work together to isolate Iran, accusing the Islamic republic of fuelling "the fires of sectarian conflict and terror".

"Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate it," he said.

He told dozens of Muslim leaders he brought "a message of friendship and hope and love".

He urged Muslim countries to ensure that "terrorists find no sanctuary on their soil" and announced an agreement with Gulf countries to fight financing for extremists.

The focus of Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia is shifting to politics, a day after major US companies signed multi-billion dollar deals in the defense, energy and infrastructure industries. In addition to talks aimed at containing Iran’s regional influence, the president used his speech to ease concerns that his security measures will discriminate against Muslims.

In the speech, he made references to “Islamist extremism” rather than “radical Islamic terrorism,” which he used throughout last year’s presidential campaign and into his first months in office to describe the central security challenge for the US. The phrase became a rallying cry for his domestic political base as did a travel ban on people from various Muslim-majority countries, though that list does not include Saudi Arabia.

Trump even expressed an openness during his campaign for the concept of a registry for Muslims living in the US and declared, “I think Islam hates us".

While some MidEast allies justified the ultimately unsuccessful travel ban as a sovereign decision seeking to keep Americans safe, it fuelled anti-American sentiment in the Arab world, where many blame the US for the spread of militant groups after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. A survey of 3,500 young Arabs across 16 countries found that 83 percent had an unfavourable view of Trump.

An overwhelming majority said they believed the president is “anti-Muslim, according to the findings released by ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller in May, which had a 1.65 percent margin of error.

None of the hostility was on display in Riyadh, where the streets have been festooned with US and Saudi Arabian flags, while Trump’s face was projected onto the Ritz-Carlton hotel. Giant billboards carried some of Trump’s tweets: “Great to be in Riyadh,” one of them read.

Sitting next to President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh, Trump praised the Egyptian leader for what he said were successful efforts to fight terrorism under “trying circumstances”.

“You have a unique personality that is capable of doing the impossible,” El-Sisi said.

“I agree,” the US president replied.

The early morning talks were a glimpse of what may come. He promised the king of Bahrain that ties will improve under his administration. “There won’t be strain with this relationship," Trump said.

Later, sitting next to Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Trump said the two will discuss “the purchase of lots of beautiful military equipment, because nobody makes it like the United States”.

He also met the emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, who referred to the president as “my brother Trump.” Trump said Kuwait buys “tremendous amounts of our military equipment,” and said that means “jobs, jobs, jobs” for Americans.

The grand reception in Riyadh reflected a desire by Gulf Arab leaders to reset relations with the US after eight years of frosty ties with President Barack Obama, who made reaching a nuclear agreement with Iran a central theme of his presidency.

The summit on Sunday will also focus on how to stem what is viewed by Arab Gulf states as Iran’s rising political sway in the region. Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, in a joint news conference with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Saturday, played down the suggestion that the reelection of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani would help improve ties.

“We want to see deeds, not words,” al-Jubeir said.

Trump’s visit to the kingdom, a close U.S. ally and the world’s biggest oil exporter, is the first stop in an eight-day trip that will take him to Israel, the Vatican and Europe.