RIYADH—President Donald Trump called on Arab leaders to do their fair share to “drive out” terrorism from their countries on Sunday in a speech that put the burden on the region to combat militant groups.
Trump, who generated controversy with his push to temporarily ban citizens of six predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States, described the fight against terrorism as a battle between good and evil rather than a clash of civilizations.
“America is prepared to stand with you in pursuit of shared interests and common security. But nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them,” Trump told leaders of 55 Muslim majority countries representing more than a billion people.
“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,” he said.
“It’s a choice between two futures and its a choice America cannot make for you. A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and drive out the extremists.
“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,” he said.
Trump’s “America first” philosophy helped him win the 2016 election and has rattled allies who depend on U.S. support for their defense. The president made clear in his address that Washington would partner with the Middle East but expected more action in return.
“Terrorism has spread across the world. But the path to peace begins right here, on this ancient soil, in this sacred land,” he said in Saudi Arabia, the first stop on a nine-day tour that includes Israel, Italy and Belgium.
Trump received a warm welcome from Arab leaders, who set aside his campaign rhetoric about Muslims and focused on his desire to crack down on Iran’s influence in the region, a commitment they found wanting in Obama.
Introducing Trump, Saudi King Salman described their mutual foe Iran as the source of terrorism they must confront together.
“Our responsibility before God and our people and the whole world is to stand united to fight the forces of evil and extremism wherever they are … The Iranian regime represents the tip of the spear of global terrorism.”
Iran is a Shi’ite Muslim country. The groups that the United States has been fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere since the September 11, 2001 attacks on Washington and New York are mostly Sunni Muslims, and enemies of Iran.
The United States and Gulf Arab countries announced agreement to coordinate efforts against the financing of terrorist groups.
Trump’s welcome in the region was put on display during a series of individual meetings with Arab leaders.
He praised Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, telling him, “You have done a tremendous job under trying circumstances.” The Obama administration had a difficult relationship with Sisi, who came to power after leading a military coup in 2013 during which hundreds of demonstrators were killed, and has since jailed thousands of opponents.
Trump promised to schedule a trip to Egypt soon, and he singled out the Egyptian’s choice of footwear, a pair of shiny black shoes. “Love your shoes. Boy, those shoes,” he said.
To Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, Trump declared that the two nations had a lot in common and “there won’t be strain with this administration.”
The king lauded the relationship and said it had led to “great stability in the region and prosperity.” Bahrain is home to the U.S. fleet in the Middle East. Its Sunni Muslim royal family rules over a majority Shi’ite population and was occasionally rebuked by the Obama administration for harsh treatment of opponents.
Trump’s Riyadh visit kicks off his first presidential trip abroad, with Saudi Arabia the first stop on a nine-day journey through the Middle East and Europe.