Donald Trump used his first keynote speech abroad to accuse Iran of supporting Bashar al-Assad in committing ‘unspeakable crimes’ against his own people in Syria.
Addressing the leaders of Arab and Muslim-majority nations in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Trump praised the Middle East region and the religion of Islam – a dramatic change of tone for the US president.
However, he used the opportunity to strongly criticise Iran – which wasn’t present at the summit – accusing them of funding terror across the Middle East.
‘There is a regime that is responsible for so much instability in the region,’ he told the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh.
‘I am speaking, of course, of Iran. From Lebanon, to Iraq, to Yemen, Iran funds arms and trains terrorists and other extremist groups.
‘For decades Iran has fuelled the fires of sectarian conflicts. Among Iran’s most tragic and destabilising interventions, you’ve seen it in Syria – bolstered by Iran, Assad has committed unspeakable crimes.’
He then added that ‘responsible nations must work together to end the humanitarian crisis in Syria and restore stability to the region as quickly as possible’.
However, the president stressed that the middle eastern nations must shoulder most of the responsibility for eradicating Islamist terrorism.
Trump’s comments clearly pleased his Saudi hosts – who have had a long-standing rivalry with Iran – but could cause concerns for diplomatic relations between the US and Iran.
The president was accompanied by his wife Melania, his daughter Ivanka, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner at the summit.
With the exception of Iran, Trump used the speech to stress the importance of cooperation between Muslim-majority nations and the US – calling the countries ‘friends’ of America.
In his introduction, King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud stressed the country’s commitment to both fighting extremism, and to advancing the rights of women.
‘In its prosperous times, Islam provided the best example of religion and tolerance,’ King Salman said.
‘One of the most important goals of our Islamic Sharia is to protect life – and there is no honour in committing murder.
‘Islam is the religion of peace and tolerance – it considers killing an innocent soul tantamount to killing all of humanity.’