Trump on Iran in Saudi Arabia, Israel

On May 21, President Donald Trump accused Iran of fueling “the fires of sectarian conflict and terror” in his address to leaders of 50 Muslim countries in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The Sunni kingdom was his first stop on his first foreign trip. Trump and King Salman inaugurated a new center to monitor and combat extremism. Trump called on Muslim nations to eliminate the “wave of fanatical violence” committed in Islam’s name and singled out Iran for its support for terror. The president also discussed Iran in Israel, his second stop. In remarks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump criticized the Obama administration for negotiating the nuclear deal with Iran and major world powers. “We not only gave them a lifeline, we gave them wealth and prosperity. And we also gave them an ability to continue with terror… no matter where we go we see the signs of Iran in the Middle East,” he said on May 22. 


Trump’s remarks came just after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, whose chief achievement is the nuclear deal, won a second term. He defeated his conservative rival by a wide margin in the May 19 presidential election. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the United States hopes that Rouhani will change its foreign policy and protect human rights domestically. “What I would hope – is that Rouhani now has a new term, and that he use that term to begin a process of dismantling Iran’s network of terrorism, dismantling its financing of the terrorist network, dismantling of the manning and the logistics and everything that they provide to these destabilizing forces that exist in this region,” he said in Riyadh on May 20. Tillerson, however, left the door open to speaking with his counterpart Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. He said that he would “not shut out anyone who wants to talk” or have a productive conversation. "In all likelihood, we will talk at the right time." The following are excerpts from Trump and Tillerson’s remarks.


President Donald Trump

Speech to the Arab Islamic American Summit

Starving terrorists of their territory, their funding, and the false allure of their craven ideology, will be the basis for defeating them.

But no discussion of stamping out this threat would be complete without mentioning the government that gives terrorists all three—safe harbor, financial backing, and the social standing needed for recruitment. It is a regime that is responsible for so much instability in the region. I am speaking of course of Iran.

From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms, and trains terrorists, militias, and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region. For decades, Iran has fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror.

It is a government that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing the destruction of Israel, death to America, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room.

Among Iran’s most tragic and destabilizing interventions have been in Syria. Bolstered by Iran, Assad has committed unspeakable crimes, and the United States has taken firm action in response to the use of banned chemical weapons by the Assad Regime – launching 59 tomahawk missiles at the Syrian air base from where that murderous attack originated.

Responsible nations must work together to end the humanitarian crisis in Syria, eradicate ISIS, and restore stability to the region. The Iranian regime’s longest-suffering victims are its own people. Iran has a rich history and culture, but the people of Iran have endured hardship and despair under their leaders’ reckless pursuit of conflict and terror.

Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate Iran, deny it funding for terrorism, and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they deserve.

The decisions we make will affect countless lives.

—May 21, 2017, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

We are great allies [the United States and Israel].  We have so many opportunities in front of us.  But we must seize them together.  We must take advantage of the situation, and there are many, many things that can happen now that would never have been able to happen before.  And we understand that very well.  That includes advancing prosperity, defeating the evils of terrorism, and facing the threat of an Iranian regime that is threatening the region and causing so much violence and suffering.

During my travels, I have seen many hopeful signs that lead me to believe that we can truly achieve a more peaceful future for this region and for people of all faiths and all beliefs and, frankly, all over the world.

In my visit to Saudi Arabia, I met with many leaders of the Arab and Muslim world, including King Salman, who treated us so beautifully and really wants to see great things happen for the world.  He really does.  I got to know him well, and he really does.

These leaders voiced concerns we all share -- about ISIS, about Iran’s rising ambitions and rolling back its gains, and about the menace of extremism that has spread through too many parts of the Muslim world.  I’m encouraged that they pledge cooperation to confront terrorism and the hateful ideology that drives it so hard.  America welcomes the action and support of any nation willing to do the hard but vital work in eradicating the violent ideologies that have caused so much needless bloodshed and killing here and all over the world.

—May 22, 2017, in a joint statement with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu


Israelis have experienced firsthand the hatred and terror of radical violence.  Israelis are murdered by terrorists wielding knives and bombs.  Hamas and Hezbollah launch rockets into Israeli communities where schoolchildren have to be trained to hear the sirens and run to the bomb shelters -- with fear, but with speed.  ISIS targets Jewish neighborhoods, synagogues, and storefronts.  And Iran’s leaders routinely call for Israel’s destruction.  Not with Donald J. Trump, believe me.

But even as we work toward peace, we will build strength to defend our nations.  The United States is firmly committed to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and halting their support of terrorists and militias. So we are telling you right now that Iran will not have nuclear weapons.

—May 23, 2017, in a speech at the Israel Museum


Excerpt from Joint Statement Between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States of America

The two leaders [King Salman and President Trump] also agreed on the need to contain Iran’s malign interference in the internal affairs of other states, instigation of sectarian strife, support of terrorism and armed proxies, and efforts to destabilize the countries in the region.

The two leaders also stressed that Iran’s interference poses a threat to the security of the region and the world, and that the nuclear agreement with Iran needs to be re-examined in some of its clauses. The Iranian ballistic missile program poses a threat, not only to neighboring countries, but also a direct threat to the security of all countries in the region as well as global security.

The two leaders expressed their support for the Iraqi government’s efforts to eradicate ISIS, uniting the Iraqis to combat terrorism that poses a threat to all Iraq, and preserving the unity and integrity of Iraqi territory, as well as the importance of stopping Iranian interference in Iraqi internal affairs. The two sides noted the importance of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iraq and seeking to develop them further.

—May 23, 2017


Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

What we hope – what I would hope – is that Rouhani now has a new term, and that he use that term to begin a process of dismantling Iran’s network of terrorism, dismantling its financing of the terrorist network, dismantling of the manning and the logistics and everything that they provide to these destabilizing forces that exist in this region. That’s what we hope he does.

We also hope that he puts an end to [Iran’s] ballistic missile testing. We also hope that he restores the rights of Iranians to freedom of speech, to freedom of organization, so that Iranians can live the life that they deserve.

That’s what we hope this election will bring. I’m not going to comment on my expectation. But we hope that if Rouhani wanted to change Iran’s relationship with the rest of the world, those are the things he could do.

—May 20, 2017 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

With respect to Iran and their absence here – and I think His Excellency clearly addressed why Iran is not here today – Iran continues its hegemonic activities in this region in Yemen, in Iraq, in Syria, and its support of Hizballah in Lebanon.  And until Iran shows its willingness to be a good neighbor, I think is the words that were used by many, that shows its willingness to cease its enablement of the kind of destabilizing activities that go on, their payment of foreign fighters, their payment of militias to go into other countries and destabilize those countries, then Iran will not have a place around this table that was set today.

So it is our hope that – and we have a new leadership or a renewed leadership beginning another term in Iran – that they will begin to examine what this behavior is gaining for them, and rather, they will find their way back to a place that Iran historically enjoyed:  good relations with its neighbors.  And that’s what we hope they find their way back to as well. 

In the meantime, we will continue to take action to make it clear to Iran when their behavior is unacceptable – and that means in terms of carrying out and supporting acts of terrorism, continuing the development of their ballistic missile programs – we will continue to take action through sanctions and we will continue to encourage others in the global community to take action as well so that Iran understands this is not acceptable.

So we will be dealing with Iran in the economic sanction front and we will be dealing with Iran in these countries where they have decided to put their presence militarily. 

—May 20, 2017 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia at a press availability with Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir