Five things to watch in Trump's speech to the Muslim world

Five things to watch in Trump's speech to the Muslim world
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President Trump began his highly anticipated first trip overseas with a visit to Saudi Arabia this weekend, where he is slated to give a speech to leaders from 50 Muslim countries laying out a vision for advancing relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world.

His speech Sunday will take place in a country that homes the two holiest sites of Islam. Saudi Arabia split with many other predominantly Muslim countries by embracing Trump and defending his controversial travel ban earlier this year, arguing the order that was eventually blocked in courts did not target "Muslim countries or Islam."

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Trump's relationship with the Muslim world remains tense. On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly called for mosques to be monitored while warning about refugees from Muslim-majority countries amid debate over national security threats.

Beyond the ceremonious displays on the foreign trip, Trump will face high stakes for his speech, with speculation rising over his ability to connect with allies in the region.

Here are five things to watch:

 

1) Will Trump say 'radical Islamic terrorism' during his speech?

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia jointly cooperate in efforts to combat terrorist groups — such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al Qaeda — that have seen their influence stretch throughout the Middle East.

Trump repeatedly criticized former President Obama for not using the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism" in discussing a strategy to more forcefully confront terrorist threats.

The expression became a centerpiece for Trump’s presidential campaign, with the real estate mogul arguing on the campaign trail that using the term was key to addressing modern threats.

“I am going to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country,” Trump said in October to a cheering audience at a rally in Ocala, Fla., adding that his opponent Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham Clinton2020 Democrats target federal ban on abortion funding Hillary Clinton slams Trump for spreading 'sexist trash' about Pelosi Gillibrand seizes on abortion debate to jump-start campaign MORE “won’t even use the term."

Vice President Pence said the White House stood behind the phrase in early March.

Yahoo News reported on Friday that it was unclear if the phrase would be included in Trump's speech. CNN reported that while it wasn't in a current draft, the speech could change before Trump delivers it. 

 

2) Will Trump address domestic controversies?

Trump faced intense criticism for nearly two weeks following his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, which came amid an ongoing investigation into whether Trump campaign officials colluded with Russia to sway the election.

Trump's White House has faced intense scrutiny following reports that Trump demanded Comey pledge his loyalty to him before he was fired and that he asked the former FBI chief to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The president has denied both reports, though lawmakers have demanded copies of memos authored by Comey that allegedly detail Trump's requests.

The Washington Post also reported Friday that the FBI probe had extended to include a senior White House adviser close to Trump as a top person of interest.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who earlier this week claimed people in other parts of the world don't "have time to pay attention to what’s happening" in the U.S., was asked about the report Saturday in Saudi Arabia, saying he didn't have knowledge about it.

Administration officials have denied that the swirling controversies would impact the president's first overseas trip.

"No, absolutely not, absolutely not," Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Bloomberg on Saturday while leaving the Saudi-U.S. CEO Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

 

3) Will Trump stay on message?

Trump has been known to stray from his prepared remarks, but he will be under added pressure Sunday to stick to the script, which aides suggested was being carefully crafted.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster said the president will deliver a speech that offers a "peaceful vision of Islam to dominate across the world.” 

Trump reportedly edited the speech with aides during the 14-hour trip from Washington to Saudi Arabia on Friday.

 

4) Will he draw a hard line on Iran?

Trump and Saudi King Salman have voiced agreement that Iran is a threat to Middle East peace and stability.

Many Saudis felt former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaIt's Joe Biden's 2020 presidential nomination to lose Assange hit with 17 new charges, including Espionage Act violations Progressive commentator says Obama was delusional thinking he could work with Republicans MORE took a softer approach toward Iran than Trump, which critics said weakened relations.

Trump repeatedly called the nuclear deal with Iran a terrible deal on the campaign trail. In a March 2016 AIPAC speech, Trump said his top priority was "to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran."

While his rhetoric toward Iran remains tough, the president has also made foreign policy decisions that signal he is open to continuing the Obama-era approach toward Tehran.

 

5) Will the president bring up human rights issues?

Trump harshly criticized Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for engaging with Saudi Arabia, citing their financial funding to a country that is constantly criticized for its human rights practices towards women and gays.

“You talk about women and women's rights? So these are people that push gays off business, off buildings. These are people that kill women and treat women horribly and yet you take their money,” Trump said during the third presidential debate.

“So I'd like to ask you right now why don't you give back the money that you've taken from certain countries that treat certain groups of people so horribly?”

The Associated Press reported a draft of the speech refrains from directly mentioning human rights issues, instead focusing on goals of peace and stability.