U.S. President Donald Trump in Riyadh for a landmark speech to the Sunni Muslim world on Sunday, together with Saudi monarch King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, singled out Shia Islamic Republic of Iran as the premium sponsor of Jihadi* terrorism that has plagued the Middle East and the rest of the world.
President Trump, during his address to a gathering of leaders from more than 50 majority-Muslim nations, mentioned his dislike for Iran’s nemesis ISIS, and asked for a “coalition of nations” in the Middle East to come together with the aim of “stamping out extremism,” including Iranian affiliated Hezbollah.
Trump said Iran trains terrorists, extremist groups and militias and fuels “the fires of sectarian conflict and terror.“
King Salman called the Islamic Republic the “spearhead of global terrorism.”
The king said Saudi Arabia had not witnessed terrorism until the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. Instead of accepting good-faith initiatives, Iran has “pursued expansionary ambitions, and criminal practices and the meddling of other countries’ internal affairs,” he said. The kingdom, however, respects the Iranian people and won’t judge them “by the crimes of their regime,” he said.
Trump later singled out Iran as a terror sponsor. Iran’s leaders speak “openly” of mass murder, Trump said in his keynote speech before dozens of Muslim leaders gathered in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. He said the Iranian government gives terrorists “safe harbor, financial backing, and the social standing needed for recruitment.”
The remarks come a day after Hassan Rouhani, a moderate cleric who helped secure a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Western powers, easily defeated a conservative rival to win a second term. His victory was seen as dealing a blow to hardliners who had opposed Rouhani’s engagement with the West. In a televised address to the nation, Rouhani said that Iranians had shown they wanted “engagement with the world” over extremism.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are on the opposite sides of several major regional conflicts from Syria to Yemen, where the kingdom has been leading a coalition since March 2015 against Shiite rebels backed by Tehran. The two countries were close U.S. allies before the 1979 revolution that toppled the Shah of Iran.
The kingdom is committed to fighting terrorism, King Salman said. Muslims also have to shoulder their responsibilities in combating it, he said.
Saudi Arabia practices a strict version of Sunni Islam. While some attacks during the 1990s were blamed on Iranian-backed groups, the kingdom has suffered the most at the hands of the militants of al-Qaeda and Islamic State. In 1979, a group of Sunni extremists temporarily seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, in a joint news conference with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Saturday, played down the suggestion that the reelection of Rouhani would help improve ties.
“We want to see deeds, not words,” he said.
*Jihad: A term used in Islam, meaning the self struggle to find god- even in the midst of battle with one’s enemy- which later unscrupulous scholars translated into the struggle to ship your opponent or yourself to the afterlife utilizing the cruelest means imaginable.