WASHINGTON – Despite Saudi Arabia’s history of exporting Islamic radicalism, the Trump administration told WND it believes it can partner with the kingdom to combat radical Islam in the Middle East.
Senior administration briefed reporters Thursday on the purpose of President Trump’s just-announced trip to the Middle East, which includes forming a coalition of countries in the region to counter ISIS and Iran.
WND asked, “How do you partner with Saudi Arabia against radicalization when the regime has a history of promoting a radical Islam, Wahabbism, around the world in its madrasas (schools)?”
WND also asked, “And how can you be sure the Saudis have had a genuine change or heart, or policy, and that they are not just opportunistically using the occasion against Iran?”
Calling it “a very good question,” a senior administration official said “it remains to be seen” if the Saudi shift is genuine.
He said “we go by tangible results” and “we have a way of measuring tangible results,” implying that is how President Trump will evaluate Saudi sincerity.
The official said the objective was to isolate radical groups, suggesting that would be evidence of results the administration seeks.
“We’re optimistic, but we’ll see,” the top official cautioned.
Another very senior official also tempered expectations by cautioning that it was “a good question,” and adding, “We’ll see.”
“We see a real willingness and leadership commitment” from the Middle East as the administration is engaging in its diplomatic push.
The officials did express optimism that this was a unique opportunity, “a moment in time,” to rally Islamic states in the region against radicalism because of the very clear terror threat presented to those regimes by ISIS and Iran, a longtime foe of Saudi Arabia.
A senior administration official said another reason that the moment was unique is that the rise of the twin threats of ISIS and Iran made it clear that Israel was not the obstacle to Mideast peace, and recognition of that was growing through the region.
One official made a point of noting that the administration did not believe its policy of “America first” was incompatible with American leadership.
And that America was in the process of restoring its credibility in the region.
Officially, the White House announced that Trump has accepted an invitation from King Salman bin Abd Al-Aziz to visit Saudi Arabia later in May.
The visit “will reaffirm the strong partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia and allow the leaders to discuss issues of strategic concern, including efforts to defeat terrorist groups and discredit radical ideologies,” the announcement said.
At the same time, Trump will visit President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel and discuss “a range of regional issues, including the need to counter the threats posed by Iran and its proxies, and by ISIS and other terrorist groups.”
Trump also will visit President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, and will visit Pope Francis in Rome.
The trip is in the run-up to the G-7 summit meetings in Sicily.