President Donald Trump urged Arab and Islamic leaders on Sunday to unite and do their share to defeat Islamist extremists, making an impassioned plea to “drive out” terrorists while toning down his own harsh rhetoric about Muslims.
Trump singled out Iran as a key source of funding and support for militant groups. His words aligned with the views of his Saudi Arabian hosts and sent a tough message to Tehran the day after Hassan Rouhani won a second term as Iran’s president.
The U.S. president did not use his signature term “radical Islamic terrorism” in the speech, a signal that he heeded advice to employ a more moderate tone in the region after using the phrase repeatedly as a presidential candidate.
“Terrorism has spread all across the world. But the path to peace begins right here, on this ancient soil, in this sacred land,” Trump told leaders from about 50 Muslim-majority countries representing more than a billion people.
“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.”
The president’s first speech abroad provided an opportunity to show his strength and resolve, in contrast to his struggle to contain a mushrooming scandal at home after his firing of former FBI Director James Comey nearly two weeks ago.
He portrayed the conflict as one between good and evil, not between civilizations, and made clear in a forceful tone that Washington would partner with the Middle East but expected more action in return.
“There is still much work to be done. That means honestly confronting the crisis of Islamic extremism, and the Islamists, and Islamic terror of all kinds,” he said in his speech.
The advance excerpts of the speech had him saying “Islamist extremism.” A White House official blamed Trump’s fatigue for the switch. “Just an exhausted guy,” she told reporters.
The term “Islamist extremism” refers to Islamism as a political movement rather than Islam as a religion, a distinction that the Republican president had frequently criticized the administration of his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, for making.