US President Donald Trump in turnaround praises Islam, lashes out at Iran

VIDEO: REUTERS
President Donald Trump shortly before addressing the Arabic Islamic American Summit in Saudi Arabia on May 21, 2017.
President Donald Trump shortly before addressing the Arabic Islamic American Summit in Saudi Arabia on May 21, 2017. PHOTO: NYTIMES

US President Donald Trump on Sunday (May 21) made a 180 degree turn from the anti-Muslim rhetoric of his campaign, pledging US partnership with allies in the Middle East but also calling on Muslim countries to "drive out" extremists and terrorists from communities and places of worship.

"More than 95 per cent of the victims of terrorism are themselves Muslim" he acknowledged in a speech billed as historic, before over 50 leaders from Muslim nations at the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh.

"The path to peace begins right here, on this ancient soil, in this sacred land" he added, in a speech that elicited mixed reviews from politicians and experts on the Middle East alike.

While exhorting the assemblage of kings, emirs, prime ministers and presidents - mostly from Sunni-majority countries and not including leaders from Shia-majority Iran - to work together to purge extremists, he lashed out at Iran for supporting terror groups and the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

New York Congressman Pete King, a Republican in a Tweet called the President's speech "masterful."

 

There were no apologies, no hand wringing, and no political correctness, he said. The message was "Drive terrorists out. Unite Muslims, Christians and Jews."

Middle East analysts acknowledged the turnaround to a moderate tone on Islam, but remained sceptical, with some noting that many in the audience represented regimes that bred radicalism as a response to repression.

Robin Wright, a distinguished fellow at the Wilson Centre in Washington told CNN: "He takes a military approach to terrorism.. (saying) drive them out. This is a problem you can't just use a bullet to solve. The speech only dealt with the veneer of extremism. It was devoid of any realistic solution."

On the same channel Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Mr Trump came out "not only as presidential, but as reaching out to Muslim leaders from around the world".

But he noted that while the speech was generally consistent with America's message to its Middle Eastern allies it did not address "the conditions, the problems in these societies that are producing radicalism".

Others were concerned about Mr Trump's alignment with Saudi Arabia and other allies against Iran, and highlighted the irony that Iran on Friday (May 19) held a successful general election in which over 40 million voted to re-elect moderate President Hassan Rouhani.

"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" Mr Trump said.

 

He was echoing his host, Saudi Arabia's King Salman, who speaking before him, also lashed out at Iran calling it an exporter of violent extremism and "spearhead of global terrorism". Saudi Arabia is involved in a proxy war with Iran in Yemen.

Hend Amry, Qatar-based Libyan-American writer, tweeted "Trump has said nothing about the drivers of terrorism" and noting "Trump's lopsided calling out of Iran to an audience of their rivals".

Haroon Moghul, a contributor to the Washington-based Center for Global Policy, tweeted: "Trump's belligerency towards Iran in the present regional climate is a recipe for global disaster."