Trump’s first overseas trip is to Saudi Arabia to coordinate fight against Islamic State and Iran
Trip by Trump also aimed at isolating Iran and meeting Pope Francis
US President Donald Trump will travel to Saudi Arabia this month, his first overseas trip since assuming office, to attend a summit of regional leaders as part of an effort to isolate Iran and better coordinate the fight against religious extremist groups, including Islamic State.
Trump was invited to the kingdom by King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud “to discuss issues of strategic concern, including efforts to defeat terrorist groups and discredit radical ideologies”, according to a White House statement.
Trump, joining religious leaders in the Rose Garden on Thursday, said his first foreign trip would “begin with a truly historic gathering in Saudi Arabia with leaders all across the Muslim world”.
From Riyadh, Trump will travel to Israel at the invitation of the country’s President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss “threats posed by Iran and its proxies” and “ways to advance a genuine and lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians”. Trump also accepted the invitation of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Trump’s Riyadh-Tel Aviv itinerary could suggest “a major impetus towards Middle East peace with Israel becoming more openly accepted in the region because Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab States share with Israel a mutual suspicion of Iran”, Simon Henderson, a Saudi specialist with The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said in an interview.
“Islamic terrorism, Islamic militancy or jihadism, call it what you will, is a unifying theme here because this is something that threatens the internal stability of the Arab States more than anything else,” Henderson added. Saudi Arabia is “desperate for US support in the region and enormously grateful that Trump is as pro-Saudi as [former US President Barack] Obama was apparently anti-Saudi”.
Senior White House officials briefing reporters in Washington DC amplified the anti-Iran rhetoric.
“There’s a catastrophe in the Middle East brought on by the twin effects of these jihadist organisations associated with Al Qaeda, al Nusra and so forth, as well as ISIS, and also the Iranian efforts of subversion and support for militias armed groups and murderous regimes across the region,”said one of the advisors.
The weeklong sojourn will mark the president’s first trip abroad and come about six weeks after the US launched Tomahawk missiles against a Syrian air base in the aftermath of a chemical weapons attack in the war-ravaged country.
Underscoring US suspicion of Tehran, the US Department of State issued a statement today questioning Iran’s participation in a recent conference, convened in Astana, Kazakhstan, aimed at de-escalating violence in Syria.
“We continue to have concerns about the Astana agreement, including the involvement of Iran as a so-called ‘guarantor.’ Iran’s activities in Syria have only contributed to the violence, not stopped it, and Iran’s unquestioning support for the Assad regime has perpetuated the misery of ordinary Syrians,” according to the statement.
The announcement of Trump’s Middle East trip follows the US president’s meeting on Wednesday with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and his optimistic pledge to mediate peace efforts between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Trump has sought to forge strong ties with Israel’s President Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of his presidency in hopes of facilitating peace. The visit to Israel will reinforce that alliance, officials said.
“Our task is not to dictate to others how to live but to build a coalition of friends and partners who share the goal of fighting terrorism and bringing safety, opportunity and stability to the war-ravaged Middle East,” Trump said.
The US president also plans to travel to Rome to meet Pope Francis and Italian President Sergio Mattarella “to discuss cooperation between the United States and religious communities in areas of joint concern”, according to the White House briefing.
From there, Trump will continue on to Brussels for the NATO summit and meetings with EU and Belgian leaders, and to Sicily for a G7 meeting