RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — President Donald Trump delivered a forceful address here Sunday summoning the Muslim world to confront “the crisis of Islamic extremism” as he seeks to present a united front against global terrorism.
Speaking from Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and home to several of the religion’s holiest sites, Trump implored dozens of Muslim nations to join the United States against the killing of innocent people in the name of religion and the failure to take a firm and united stand.
“This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects or different civilizations,” Trump said. “This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life and decent people, all in the name of religion — people that want to protect life and want to protect their religion. This is a battle between good and evil.”
Trump established common cause with his Saudi hosts by singling out Iran as funding terrorists and promoting a “craven ideology,” and he called on the Muslim world to help isolate Iran.
In the run-up to Trump’s visit, there was considerable speculation about whether he would utter the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” in his speech, the centerpiece of his Saudi trip.
On the campaign trail, Trump loudly criticized President Barack Obama for refusing to describe the terrorism threat in those terms. But some of Trump’s top aides, including national security adviser H.R. McMaster, have been urging the president to soften his language, and many Muslim leaders consider broad denunciations of their faith insulting.
In his Riyadh address, Trump decided to use a substitute phrase: “Islamist extremism.” But he slightly veered off the prepared excerpts released earlier by the White House, saying “Islamic” instead of “Islamist” on several occasions.
Describing the fight against terrorism, Trump spoke of “honestly confronting the crisis of Islamic extremism and the Islamists and Islamic terror of all kinds.”
Lamenting the scourge of terrorism across the Middle East, Trump exhorted, “Drive them out! Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land. And drive them out of this Earth.”
Trump was addressing a rare gathering of leaders of about 50 Muslim nations at the Arab Islamic American Summit. It was his second day on a marathon foreign trip that will take him next to Israel and then to Europe. The Middle East, he said, had long been home to “Arabs and Christians and Jews living side by side,” and that it could again be a place for “every person, no matter their faith.”
Implicitly rejecting the aspirational goals of Obama, Trump said, “We are adopting a principled realism, rooted in common values, shared interests and common sense.”
“We are not here to lecture,” Trump said. “We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership, based on shared interests and values.”
By preaching tolerance and calling Islam “one of the world’s great faiths,” Trump departed 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 gave his remarks in a opulent hall of the King Abdulaziz International Conference Center, where spectacular crystal chandeliers hung from the gilded ceiling and attendees sat in plush armchairs. The president was seated at the front of the room, behind an ornate wooden desk and alongside the summit’s host, King Salman, before taking the lectern.
Salman said his kingdom is committed to “fighting all forms of terrorism” and, echoing Trump’s message, condemned those who kill in the name of Islam.
“We say to our Muslim brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters everywhere, that one of the most important goals of Islamic sharia is protecting life, and there is no honor in committing murder,” Salman said. “Islam is the religion of peace and tolerance.”
The king directed much of his ire toward Iran and what he deemed its support for terrorism. “These odious acts are the products of attempts to exploit Islam as a cover for political purposes to flame hatred, extremism, terrorism and religious and sectarian conflicts,” Salman said.
Trump was generous in his praise for Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim state that considers Shiite Iran to be its principal rival for regional power.
He proudly announced a $110 billion arms deal signed with the Saudis during his visit here and said the United States was willing to extend the same partnership to other nations that share its objectives.
Trump also highlighted, in terms reminiscent of his domestic boasting, what he said were the achievements of his first months in office, claiming creation of nearly 1 million jobs.
The president is seeking to strengthen U.S. alliances in the Middle East to isolate the Islamic State and other extremist forces, along with Iran. A few hours before his remarks, Trump and the leaders of six Persian Gulf states reached an agreement to crack down on terrorism 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 Salman, Trump witnessed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef exchange documents and shake hands to formalize the agreement.
Dina Powell, Trump’s deputy national security adviser, called the agreement the “farthest-reaching commitment to not finance terrorist organizations,” and she said 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 delivered 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 said. “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 was 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,” he said. “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, frankly, for their families 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-Fattah al-Sisi praised Trump and invited him to visit Egypt, which Trump said he intends to do. Through a translator, Sisi 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 Sisi on his fashion, telling the Egyptian leader, “Love your shoes. Boy, those shoes. Man …”
Trump met with Sisi 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 Sisi “my friend” and thanked him for his help with the release of American aid worker Aya Hijazi, 30, who had been imprisoned in Cairo.
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.”