Trump meets with Gulf Arab leaders, praises ties with Bahrain


US President Donald Trump was holding a series of meetings in Saudi Arabia on Sunday with leaders from Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt, Kuwait and other countries as he began the second day of his first trip abroad as US president.

In some of the first comments to emerge from the meetings, Trump said Washington’s relations with the Arab Gulf state of Bahrain, a key US ally in defense initiatives, would improve under his administration.

“Our countries have a wonderful relationship together, but there has been a little strain, but there won’t be strain with this administration,” he said during a photo session with Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

“We’re going to have a very, very long-term relationship. I look forward to it very much – many of the same things (in) common,” he added.

Close US ally

Bahrain’s leader said the two countries relations were “based on a very good foundation of mutual understanding and strategy.”

Bahrain, which was designated as a “Major Non-NATO Ally” by Washington in 2002, hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and takes part in US-led military coalitions. However, several Western governments, including that of the US, have in the past criticized the Sunni country’s crackdown on Shiite dissenters.

Trump also met with the Emir of Qatar, saying that he would discuss the purchase of “lots of beautiful military equipment” with him, adding that “nobody makes it like the United States.”

At another meeting, this time with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi, again saw a trading of compliments, with Trump calling the meeting “very, very important” and saying that “safety seems to be very strong” in Egypt.

 El-Sissi outdid him in praise, calling Trump “a unique personality that is capable of doing the impossible,” to which the US president assented amid laughter, while also accepting an invitation to visit Egypt “very soon.” 

Bahrain Proteste nach Tod von Mustafa Hamdan (picture-alliance/NurPhoto/A. B. Al Kamel)

Bahrain has recently seen large-scale demonstrations by Shiite protesters amid a government crackdown

Highly anticipated keynote speech

Later in the day, Trump is expected to use a speech in Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest site, to call on the Muslim world to unite in the fight against terrorism.

In the address to 50 Muslim and Arab leaders, he will urge them to “drive out the terrorists from your places of worship,” according to drafts of the speech seen by reporters.

The speech will be carefully watched in view of the often anti-Islamic rhetoric used by Trump on the campaign trail, including several comments suggesting that Saudi Arabia held extremist values.

Trump is also to attend the opening of the new Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology in Riyadh with Saudi King Salman.

On Saturday, the US president was awarded Saudi Arabia’s highest civilian honor, the Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud. Trump’s visit has so far also seen the signing of a $110 billion (around 100 billion euro) deal for Saudi purchases of US military equipment.

On Monday, Trump and his wife, Melania, will head for Israel, with a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the schedule.

tj/sms (AP, Reuters, dpa)