RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — President Trump forcefully summoned the Muslim world to confront “the crisis of Islamic extremism” here Sunday on the eve of visits to Israel and the Vatican as he seeks to unite followers of disparate faiths against global terrorism.
Speaking from the birthplace of Islam, Trump implored the leaders of dozens of Muslim nations to take their destinies in hand and, together with the United States, eliminate the “wave of fanatical violence” committed in the name of religion.
“This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects or different civilizations,” Trump said in the first major foreign policy address of his presidency. “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 implicitly rejected the aspirational goals and call for democracy and human rights of former president Barack Obama, who also delivered a major speech to the Islamic world early in his presidency. “We are adopting a principled realism,” Trump said.
“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.”
Trump called for unity in confronting Iran over its funding of terrorists and promotion of a “craven ideology.” He called on the Muslim world to help isolate Iran and, just days after Iranians reelected a moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, to “pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they so richly deserve.”
Trump was addressing a rare gathering of leaders of about 50 Muslim nations at the Arab Islamic American Summit.
It was the second day of a marathon foreign trip that will take Trump to Israel on Monday, where he is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin and visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall. On Tuesday, Trump will deliver a speech at the Israel Museum and briefly visit Bethlehem for a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Trump will then fly to Rome, where he will have a private audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday morning. He will attend a NATO summit in Brussels and a Group of Seven summit in Sicily, Italy, later in the week.
In the run-up to Trump’s visit here, there was 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 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 him to soften his language. 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.
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