News Analysis: President Trump's first Saudi visit aims to defeat Islamic State

Source: Xinhua| 2017-05-22 05:30:31|Editor: yan
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By Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, May 21 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Donald Trump's first trip to Saudi Arabia, which kicked off on Saturday, aims to strengthen the U.S. ties with its Mideast ally and destroy the terror group Islamic State (IS).

The two-day trip, which included a major speech on Sunday intended to unite the Muslim world against terrorism and radical ideology, is also considered important as it's the first time a U.S. president traveled to Saudi Arabia on his first overseas trip after being elected.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia carries much weight in the Islamic world, as the country is the birthplace of Islam and the site of Islam's two most significant cities - Mecca and Medina.

Saudi Arabia is the source of much intel about terror groups such as IS and al-Qaida - the deadly organization behind the killing of nearly 3,000 people during the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. But critics say the Saudis are also a major source of radical Islamist ideology that permeates the Muslim world and beyond.

Trump pledged on the campaign trail to defeat IS and keep the U.S. safe from terror attacks, such as several that occurred over the past two years in Paris, Belgium, Istanbul and many other locations worldwide.

"Saudi Arabia has a key role to play in... defeating IS," Jim Phillips, senior Middle East research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told Xinhua.

"He seeks Saudi cooperation in stabilizing Syria, contributing to the military campaign against IS, providing humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees and cutting off IS fundraising," Phillips said.

Riyadh is likely to play only a limited military role, but it could play a major role in providing financial support for anti-IS Syrian militias and humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees, he said.

Saudi Arabia also may play an important role in the Trump administration's strategy for reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, he added.

Some experts noted there has been no bold action to shore up thin Jordanian and Saudi coverage of IS's southern border, which leaves an escape route for IS combatants once their so-called caliphate begins its final collapse. That may be one way the Saudis can help the U.S. battle against terrorism.

Trump also vowed to prevent terror attacks in the U.S. such as the 2015 attack by an IS sympathizer, who killed around 50 people in a gay nightclub in Florida. The shooter did not enter the U.S. from overseas, although his father was an Afghan immigrant.

The Boston bombing was another similar terror attack taking place in the U.S. In April 2014, twin bombings killed three people and wounded over 170 others at the Boston Marathon, which caused many Americans to question how safe the U.S. is from terrorists' mayhem.

While former U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have devoted enormous resources to fighting terrorism and thwarting attacks, experts said Trump's job of protecting the U.S. will be tough, as it only takes one bomb to create chaos.

The billionaire-turned-politician has blasted Obama for never having used the term "radical Islam," reflecting critics' views that Obama was soft on terrorism and more concerned about political correctness and offending Muslim allies than fighting against Islamist extremism.

"I think that indeed (Trump) sees Saudi Arabia as central to defeating IS...and promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace," Michael O' Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told Xinhua.

Following his trip to Saudi Arabia, Trump will visit Israel and Palestine in a bid to broker a peace deal between the two rivals.

Saudi Foreign Minister Abdel al-Jubeir said at a press conference with U.S. counterpart Rex Tillerson on Saturday that the kingdom was optimistic about Trump's abilities to bring a conclusion to the long Israeli-Palestinian conflict with his new approach and determination.