US President Donald Trump, leaders and representatives of 55 Arab and Muslim-dominated countries kicked off their Arab-Islamic-American summit in Riyadh on Sunday, focusing on unity in the fight against terrorism.
King Salman of Saudi Arabia was the first to address the summit, telling the gathering that Islam provided the best example for coexistence and “will always be the religion of mercy and coexistence”.
King Salman highlighted that some people seek to present distorted picture of Islam.
“We all, peoples and countries, reject in every language and in every form damaging the relations of Muslim countries with friendly countries and profiling countries based on a religious or sectarian basis.”
In his address, Trump said that the US was seeking a “coalition of nations” in the Middle East with the aim of “stamping out extremism”.
Trump told the gathering that the overwhelming majority of victims of terrorist attacks were the “innocent people of the Arab, Muslim and Middle Eastern nations”, pointing out that “95 percent of the victims of terrorist attacks are themselves Muslims”.
‘Battle between good and evil’
He said that the fight against extremists is a battle between good and evil.
“This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it. This is a battle between good and evil,” Trump said
“This not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations. This is a battle between those who seek to obliterate human life and those who seek to protect it.”
He added that the US was prepared to stand with those leaders in the fight against extremists, but that those countries should take the lead, urging them to drive extremists “out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your community. Drive them out of your holy land”.
“America is prepared to stand with you,” said Trump. “But the nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them.”
He also called on religious leaders to condemn attacks in the name of religion, but insisted that “this is not a battle between different faiths”.
The US leader, who has been accused of anti-Islamic rhetoric in the past, said he was not there to lecture: “We are not here to tell other people how to live… or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership based on shared interests and values.”
“We must be united in pursuing the one goal that transcends every other consideration. That goal is to meet history’s great test to conquer extremism…,” he said.
Trump’s address was sensitive given tensions sparked by the Trump administration’s attempted travel ban targetting several Muslim-majority nations and his previous remarks on Islam.
“I think Islam hates us. There is a tremendous hatred there. We have to get to the bottom of it,” Trump said in a March 2016 interview with CNN.
Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Riyadh after Trump’s speech on Sunday, said that the US leader’s tone was quite different.
“Trump reached out to the Muslim world with a new message, calling for peace, hope and unity. I think this is something that will resonate among Arab leaders, particularly those who were attending the summit today and their support is going to be crucial for the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL),” he said.
“Millions of Muslims who would be watching this speech will be totally surprised by a completely different tone by President Trump.”
First foreign tour
Trump’s speech came on the second day of a visit to Saudi Arabia, part of Trump’s first foreign tour that will take him next to Israel and the Palestinian Territories and then to Europe.
The first day saw the announcement of hundreds of billions of dollars in trade deals.
Among the agreements was an arms deal worth almost $110bn with Saudi Arabia, described as the largest in US history.
Trump met with some of the leaders from Muslim-majority countries gathered in Riyadh for the summit, including Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, Bahrain’s King Hamad and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
He signed a memorandum of understanding with the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council on countering financing of terrorism. GCC includes Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain.