President Donald Trump’s five- nation trip to Europe and the Middle East this month is aimed at reversing US’ disengagement with the world, establishing a new partnership with Muslim leaders and finding a long-term solution to extremism, a top administration official has said. Trump is to visit Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican, Brussels and Italy on his first overseas trip as president later this month. The dates have not been announced yet.
The planning for the visit to Saudi Arabia began soon after the November election results came and Riyadh approached then president-elect Trump with the message that they wanted to start a new relationship with the United States. This would be probably for the first time that a US president would make his first overseas trip to Saudi Arabia.
The official said that these new partnerships can deliver improved security and prosperity, better lives for children across all major religions and across the people of the world. “I think what the president has demonstrated already, and will be able to demonstrate even further on this trip, is that ‘America First’ is fully compatible with American leadership in the world,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
“Circumstances in the Middle East, that have bled over, as we all know, into Europe and globally, associated with radical, Islamist terrorist groups – Salafi-jihadist groups that are victimising so many in the region and beyond, as well as the problems associated with these terrorists groups, combined with Iran’s subversive and malign behaviour across the region, have aligned interests in a way that could lead to new partnerships enabled by American leadership,” he said.
“The different objectives he laid out for us was, one, is to come up with a long-term fix for radicalisation. How do you fight the ideological battle for the long term? Two is, how do we stop funding for terror and terror-related organisations and organisations that are radicalising youth?” he said.
The official said the third and the fourth objectives respectively were burden sharing: figuring out ways to get out partners in the region to do more to counter the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group and Iran, and to “figure out how we could win the actual wars that are there today.”
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Trump yesterday announced his trip and said these visits will take place ahead of the NATO G-7 meetings. His tour will begin with a “truly historic gathering in Saudi Arabia with leaders from all across the Muslim world.”
“Saudi Arabia is the custodian of the two holiest sites in Islam,” he said, adding, “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. We all pray that we can make a difference.”
The official said this demonstrates that Trump “is willing to and has embraced his leadership role in multinational forums when they serve the interests of the American people and American security.”
“He has also demonstrated that he’ll renegotiate terms when he thinks that those multinational organisations and those relationships aren’t delivering what they need to for the American people,” the official said.
Contrary to the conventional wisdom associated with Trump’s approach to alliances, he has done a tremendous amount of work to strengthen alliances, the official said.
“So if you think about NATO, for example, where most of the countries within the alliance are doing much more now to contribute to security within the context of the alliance, an alliance in which members or a partnership in which members are doing their fair share, are shouldering their share of the responsibility and the burden, is a much stronger one than an alliance in which members are not sharing their fair share of the responsibility and the burden,” the official noted.
The trip will also reverse the trend of US’ disengagement with the world and some of its biggest problems. “America’s large disengagement from some of these problems has aided and abetted those who were really fomenting violence and perpetuating human suffering across the Middle East in particular,” the official said.
Trump will also advance US interests in the area of trade and economic development during his trip to the countries. “What we’ve seen is that reciprocity is a model that works, and one that the president is advancing in connection to access to markets and so forth,” the official said.
He said the trip will demonstrate that the US is “regaining strategic” confidence. It will also demonstrate that the US has a lot to do with the ability to combine diplomacy with economic strength and “with the willingness to use military force when it is necessary,” the official said.
According to the official, Syria was a “great example” ahead of his trip. The situation called for the use of force after the Bashar al-Assad regime was committing further mass murder of its own people using the most heinous weapons.
“But that wasn’t just a one-off strike. It was the opportunity for the president to emphasise what was necessary to begin to reduce the suffering of the Syrian people,” he said. The US had struck a Syrian airfield with 59 Tomahawk missiles in April in response to the chemical weapons attack.
In a recent phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump followed up on diplomatic efforts to address the Syrian civil war, the problem associated with the IS in particular and its control of territory and resources there.
But he also looked for areas of cooperation. An example of that is a higher level of participation in the Astana conference that is going on now that could lead to ceasefires that can then bridge into the political process in Geneva.