President Trump is about to deliver a major speech to Muslim leaders

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — President Donald Trump sought to rally leaders from around the Muslim world on Sunday in a renewed campaign against extremism, rejecting the idea that the fight is a battle between religions even as he promised not to chastise them about human rights violations in their own countries.

Mr. Trump, who during last year’s presidential campaign said he thought that “Islam hates us” and proposed a ban on all Muslims entering the United States, sounded different themes in a speech to Muslim leaders here in the Saudi capital. While declaring terrorism to be a “battle between good and evil,” he said that it should be fought by “decent people” of all religions.

Coming on the second day of Mr. Trump’s inaugural trip overseas as president, the address was designed as the centerpiece of his stop in Riyadh, where he met with Arab leaders and convened a larger gathering of Muslim leaders. In effect, the speech was meant as a reset from the harsher tone and policies Mr. Trump adopted as a candidate last year and in the early days of his presidency.

“This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects or different civilizations,” Mr. 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 want to protect life and want to protect their religion. This is a battle between good and evil.”

While he has criticized President Barack Obama and others for not using the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” his staff sought to ensure that he not use it in the speech here to this Muslim audience. The advance excerpts sent out by the White House had him instead embracing a subtle but significant switch, using the term “Islamist extremism.” Some experts say the word Islamist reflects extremists without tarring the entire religion.

But when that moment in the speech came, Mr. Trump went off script and used both words, Islamic and Islamist. “That means honestly confronting the crisis of Islamic extremism and the Islamists and Islamic terror of all kinds,” Mr. Trump said. It was unclear whether he stumbled over the different word or consciously rejected the change suggested by the text.

Either way, he sought to put more of the burden on Muslim leaders, calling on them to do more to confront extremism in their midst. “The nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them,” he said. “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.”

Mr. Trump said it would be up to Muslims themselves to purge their societies of the “foot soldiers of evil,” as he put it. “Drive them out,” he said. “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.”

The United States, for its part, will “make decisions based on real-world outcomes, not inflexible ideology,” and “wherever possible, we will seek gradual reforms, not sudden intervention,” he added.

While Mr. Obama and President George W. Bush in different ways and to different degrees had promoted human rights and democracy as tactics to undercut support for radicalism, Mr. Trump made clear he did not plan to publicly pressure Muslim nations to ease their repressive policies.

“We are not here to lecture,” he 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 — to pursue a better future for us all.”

Republican leaders in Washington endorsed the content and tone of the president’s message. Representative Peter King, a Republican from New York who has been critical of Mr. Trump’s public statements in the past, called the speech “masterful.”

And Representative Mark Meadows, a Republican from South Carolina and a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, wrote on Twitterthat the speech showed “bold, decisive, leadership.”

Some people who have been critical of Mr. Trump’s statements about Islam were less enthusiastic.

Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that Mr. Trump might have attempted to set a more “productive tone,” but that it “does not wipe out years of well-documented anti-Islam animus.”

“New policies and concrete actions — not mere rhetoric — are what is needed to reset relations with the Muslim world,” Mr. Awad said in a statement released by the council.

In recent days, aides to the president have suggested that Mr. Trump would pivot away from the serrated-edged language of his presidential campaign. Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser, who has pushed Mr. Trump to stop using the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” hinted that the president may not use it in the speech.

“The president will call it whatever he wants to call it,” General McMaster said in an interview with “This Week” on ABC News. “But I think it’s important that, whatever we call it, we recognize that these are not religious people and, in fact, these enemies of all civilizations, what they want to do is to cloak their criminal behavior under this false idea of some kind of religious war.”

General McMaster’s framing of the issue was closer in spirit to the way Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama defined it than the way Mr. Trump did as a candidate. Both of his predecessors argued that terrorists had perverted Islam, which they described as essentially a religion of peace.

During last year’s campaign, Mr. Obama dismissed Mr. Trump’s use of the phrase as “yapping” that would “fall into the trap of painting all Muslims with a broad brush and imply that we are at war with an entire religion,” thus “doing the terrorists’ work for them.”

Mr. Trump at that time refused to back down, saying that“anyone who cannot name our enemy is not fit to lead this country.” He used the phrase again in his inaugural address in January. Even after General McMaster told his national security staff that the phrase was problematic and should not be used, the president defiantly cited it again days later in an address to a joint session of Congress, a move seen as a rebuke of his own national security adviser.

Still, General McMaster said Mr. Trump has been listening to the Muslim leaders he has been meeting since becoming president and understands their views better. “This is learning,” he said on ABC.

Mr. Trump signed executive orders shortly after taking office to temporarily ban visitors from several predominantly Muslim countries, but those orders were blocked by the courts. While his administration is appealing, the president has made little mention of them lately. The page on his campaign site calling for the “total and complete shutdown” of Muslim immigration has been taken down.

Some advisers who advocated stronger action and language about what they call the Islamic threat have either left the administration or have faded in influence: Michael T. Flynn was fired as national security adviser for other reasons, while Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, and Sebastian Gorka, a White House aide, are said to have less sway.

The Trump administration and Saudi Arabia announced on Sunday that they would create a joint Terrorist Financing Targeting Center to formalize longstanding cooperation and search for new ways to cut off sources of money for radical groups. Mr. Trump also planned to tour the new Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology in Riyadh.

Mr. Trump’s speech will cap a frenetic, whirlwind day of diplomacy. He was meeting individually with the leaders of four Arab states — Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait and Qatar — and then collectively with the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council. He will then gather with dozens of leaders from around the Muslim world.

Arab leaders who had soured on Mr. Obama after eight years, complaining that he scolded them without taking a decisive enough leadership role in the region, were enthusiastic about Mr. Trump’s arrival despite his past comments about their religion.

Mr. Trump met first with King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain, a largely Shiite country led by a Sunni monarchy. The tiny island nation, which serves as home to the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet, has taken harsh measures in recent years to contain a persistent unrest.

Mr. Trump told the king that it was “a great honor to be with you” and that there “has been a little strain but there won’t be strain with this administration.” He added that the two countries have “many of the same things in common.”

In March, the country’s Parliament approved a constitutional change allowing military courts to try civilians, a decision that human rights activists called a move toward martial law. Not only did the Trump administration not object publicly, it also signaled shortly afterward that it would lift all human rights conditions on a major sale of F-16 fighter jets and other arms to Bahrain.

Mr. Trump has argued that private entreaties are more effective than public promotion of human rights, pointing to the recent release of an Egyptian-American aid worker from Egypt after he hosted that country’s strongman president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, at the White House. Mr. Trump thanked Mr. Sisi for that on Sunday during their meeting in Riyadh and said he hoped to visit Egypt soon.

In response, Mr. Sisi was effusive in his praise of the American president: “You are a unique personality that is capable of doing the impossible.”

“I agree!” Mr. Trump responded cheerily, as laughter rolled through the room.

A few moments later, Mr. Trump returned the compliment, in a fashion. “Love your shoes,” he told Mr. Sisi. “Boy, those shoes. Man!”

Mr. Trump emphasized security ties in his meetings. “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,” he told the emir of Qatar. “And for us, that means jobs and it also means, frankly, great security back here, which we want.”

Swati Sharma

SWATI SHARMA is an editor at “On Breaking”. She is a very enthusiastic journalist and has worked for many Esteemed Online Magazines and Celebrity Interview, thus gaining a huge experience before joining the team at On Breaking. She is a great combo of intelligence and passion, which adheres in her write-ups done for the website. She is specialises in Headline, Business and Entertainment.

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