A day after finalizing an "unconscionable" $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, President Donald Trump on Sunday gave a speech in Riyadh to leaders of dozens of Muslim-majority countries—a "vast congress of dictators and cut-throat autocrats," as one analyst put it—in which he called on them to "drive out the terrorists and extremists" and isolate Iran.
"To the leaders and citizens of every country assembled here today, I want you to know that the United States is eager to form closer bonds of friendship, security, culture and commerce," he said.
Of the weapons sale, described as the largest single arms deal in American history, Trump said "it will help the Saudi military to take a greater role in security operations."
Human rights campaigners, meanwhile, have denounced the sale, as it would only further help the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition carry out potential war crimes and add to the death toll in the more than two-year long war on Yemen—now famine-stricken and where a cholera outbreak has spread with "unprecedented" speed.
Kristine Beckerle, Yemen researcher at Human Rights Watch, for one, argued: "Trump should be urging the Saudis to shift course by abiding by the laws of war and holding those responsible for past abuses to account. Instead, he will effectively be telling them to continue as before and not to worry—the flow of U.S. weapons will not stop."
While Amnesty International denounced the "glaring absence of human rights from Trump's agenda [which] will only embolden further violations in a region where governments flout the rights of their own people in the name of the fight against terror," Trump said in his speech: "We are not here to lecture—we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership—based on shared interests and values—to pursue a better future for us all."
In another sign of disregard for human rights, during his visit—which also drew internet jeers for Trump's curtsy and awkward dance moves, the president held "a series of individual meetings with Arab leaders" in Riyadh, as Reuters reports. That included a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, again heaping praise on the autocrat, telling him, "You have done a tremendous job under trying circumstances," and complimenting his shiny black shoes.
In his speech, Trump also singled out Iran—a rival of Saudi Arabia—saying it is "responsible for so much instability in the region" and "has fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror." He called on "all nations of conscience [to] work together to isolate Iran."
But his speech "fails to acknowledge [that] Saudi Arabia remains world's largest sponsor of terror & Wahhabi Salafist ideology fueling al-Qaeda/ISIS," tweeted Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii).
In addition, writes David Shariatmadari at the Guardian,
While Trump was courting the leaders of a country in which women are not permitted to drive, let alone vote, liberal Iranians were celebrating Hassan Rouhani's win in the presidential elections. Tehran is not truly democratic, as politicians are vetted by senior clergy, but it comes closer than any Middle Eastern nation, bar Israel and Turkey. And yet Iran was the country singled out for trenchant criticism, while Gulf regimes were told: "We're not going to lecture anyone."
According to Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council, Trump was setting the ground for a war with Iran. He tweeted "Trump is now copy pasting Saudi talking points on Iran. Everything is Iran's fault. Always. Laying the ground work for war and: "Trump just called for all out isolation until regime in Iran falls. Yes, regime change & isolation. That's how ground was set for IRAQ war."
In a statement released Saturday, Margaret Huang, Amnesty International USA executive director, said: "The world will be watching as President Trump meets with leaders of other states with records of trampling on human rights in the name of national security. We fear this 'new partnership' could lay the foundation for further erosion of human rights in the region and far beyond."
"President Trump will also meet with leaders of countries who are hosting huge numbers of refugees from Syria. They must use the opportunity to voice their concerns about Trump's attempts to slam the door on people fleeing violence and persecution, and demand that the U.S. does its fair share to alleviate the global refugee crisis," she said.