President Trump on Sunday implored Muslim nations to form a new coalition to defeat extremism in a high-stakes speech meant to ease fears that the U.S. is at war with Islam.
Speaking in Saudi Arabia during his first foreign trip as president, Trump struck a more accommodating tone toward Islam, a religion he repeatedly targeted during his presidential campaign.
"We are not here to lecture. We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. We are here to offer partnership based on shared interests and values,” he told leaders of more than 50 Muslim-majority nations gathered in Riyadh.
Staying on message in a speech that did not address recent controversies besieging his administration back in Washington, Trump cast the fight as a battle between “good and evil” and not a war of faiths. He pointed out “95 percent” of the victims of terrorism are Muslim, and that the toll could also be counted “in generations of vanished dreams” across the region.
Trump characterized the fight against extremism in spiritual terms, saying terrorists "do not worship God, they worship death."
"If we do not stand in uniform condemnation of this killing, then not only will we be judged by our people, not only will we be judged by history, but we will be judged by God," Trump said. "Heroes don't kill innocents, they save them."
It is in the best interest of Muslim nations in the Middle East to curb the "violent reach of terrorism," he declared.
"A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and drive out the extremists,” Trump said.
“Drive them out," he continued, with his voice rising. "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.”
Gone were his inflammatory comments about Islam from the presidential campaign. Trump did not use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” which he has used often in the past and which many Muslims consider offensive. Trump did, however, cite the ills of "Islamic extremism, and the Islamists and Islamic terror of all kinds." Trump has repeatedly criticized former President Obama and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPennsylvania GOP authorizes subpoenas in election probe We must mount an all-country response to help our Afghan allies Biden nominates ex-State Department official as Export-Import Bank leader MORE, his opponent in the 2016 presidential race, for not using the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism," arguing it's key to an aggressive defense.
Trump's tough campaign rhetoric, which has extended into the early days of his presidency, has been a rallying cry for his political base. It includes his pledge to fill the Guantanamo Bay military prison with detainees and his travel ban targeted at several Muslim-majority nations. Saudi Arabia, where Trump delivered the speech during his first stop on a nine-day tour of the Middle East and Europe, broke with most other predominantly Muslim countries by defending Trump's travel ban earlier this year, arguing the order that was eventually blocked in courts did not target "Muslim countries or Islam."
Just last year, Trump declared that "Islam hates us" and said it's impossible to distinguish between peaceful and violent followers among the more than one billion followers of the religion.
"I think Islam hates us," Trump said in a March 2016 interview with CNN. "There's something there that is a tremendous hatred there. There's a tremendous hatred. We have to get to the bottom of it. There's an unbelievable hatred of us."
Those actions fueled concern across the Muslim world that the U.S. was targeting Islam.
But Trump flattered his hosts on Sunday, even commenting several times on the "grandeur" of the location for his speech. He echoed Saudi King Salman's remarks ahead of his own in drawing a hard line on the neighboring country of Iran.
While in most respects, Trump's speech draws comparisons to his predecessor's approach to the Middle East, his confrontational tone toward Iran matched what is seen as Trump's tougher stance toward Tehran.
“For decades, Iran has fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror,” Trump said. “Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate Iran, deny it funding for terrorism, and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they deserve.”
Markedly different from his predecessor, Trump's speech lacked strong warnings to the Muslim nations represented that they need to demonstrate greater reverence for human rights and democracy.
He instead applauded the Middle East as “rich with natural beauty, vibrant cultures, and massive amounts of historic treasures.”
"Saudi Arabia’s vision for 2030 is an important and encouraging statement of tolerance, respect, empowering women, and economic development," he said.
He exhorted the gathered leaders to build toward “prosperity and peace” by rooting out extremism.
Ivanka Trump, a first daughter and a leader in her father's administration, hinted during remarks to a group of women earlier in the day that women's rights are a concern in the region.
“Saudi Arabia’s progress, especially in recent years, is very encouraging," she said. "But there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
President Trump's speech caps what has been a successful trip thus far to Saudi Arabia. On Saturday, Trump and King Salman signed a "joint strategic vision" statement agreeing "to charting a renewed path toward a peaceful Middle East."
Trump also signed a $110 billion defense deal with Saudi Arabia that he expects will lead to “jobs, jobs, jobs” for Americans in the defense and infrastructure industries.
"That was a tremendous day. Tremendous investments in the United States,” he told reporters.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also reportedly pledged $100 million toward a fund for women entrepreneurs that was built by Ivanka Trump.
Saudi Arabia rolled out the red carpet for Trump's visit, including billboards reading “Together we prevail,” a light projection on the president's hotel, festive balloons and reportedly prancing horses. It was a stark contrast to the political landscape Trump left behind in the U.S., which has been marked in recent weeks by tough questions from media and Congress about Trump's reasons for firing former FBI director James Comey. Comey was leading an investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election, including allegations of collusion with members of Trump's campaign.
Trump has avoided media questions since arriving in Saudi Arabia. He brought a large contingent of his administration with him on the trip, including first lady Melania Trump, Ivanka Trump, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, both of whom were spotted dancing with swords during a ceremonial event on Saturday evening.
Later on Sunday, Trump will tour Saudi Arabia's newly launched Global Center for Combatting Extremist Ideology and address a social media forum.
Trump complimented the new center in his speech as "a clear declaration that Muslim-majority countries must take the lead in combatting radicalization."
The president leaves on Monday for Israel, where he will make stops in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
- This story was updated at 1:45 p.m.