USA Foreign Policy First Look

Saudi King Salman joins President Trump's push for 'safe zones' in Syria, Yemen

In a telephone call Sunday with President Trump, Saudi Arabia's King Salman agreed on the importance of strengthening joint efforts to fight the spread of Islamic State militants.

US President Donald Trump speaks by phone with Saudi Arabia's King Salman in the Oval Office on Sunday.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
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President Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman came to an agreement on Sunday to support safe zones in Syria and Yemen while strengthening efforts to fight the spread of Islamic terrorism, according to a White House statement, amid international backlash over Mr. Trump's executive orders limiting immigration and refugees.

In a telephone call, the two leaders agreed to ramp up counter-terrorism efforts through military and economic cooperation, including an increased Saudi presence in the US-led initiative to expel Islamic State militants from areas they control in Iraq and Syria. King Salman and Trump also agreed on the need to address "Iran's destabilizing regional activities," according to the White House. 

"The president requested, and the King agreed, to support safe zones in Syria and Yemen, as well as supporting other ideas to help the many refugees who are displaced by the ongoing conflicts," the White House said in a statement, Reuters reports.

The two also discussed the Islamic organization known as the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia has declared the group to be a terrorist organization, and Mr. Trump’s administration has floated ideas of doing the same and subjecting it to US sanctions, sources said.

The call came as protesters gathered at airports around the country to decry Trump’s executive order on immigration. The order bars those from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen from entering the country for 90 days. It also places a 120-day hold on admitting new refugees, and bars Syrian refugees indefinitely.

Emergency court orders served to put a temporary stay on some aspects of the executive action. Advocacy groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, have vowed to pursue further legal action against the orders, which many argue are unconstitutional.

It was not immediately clear if the two leaders discussed the executive orders, but various world leaders and global Muslim organizations have taken harsh stances against the action.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a group based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, that includes representatives from 57 nations, opposes the order.

"Such selective and discriminatory acts will only serve to embolden the radical narratives of extremists and will provide further fuel to the advocates of violence and terrorism at a critical time," the OIC said in a Monday statement, as reported by the Associated Press. "The OIC calls upon the United States government to reconsider this blanket decision and maintain its moral obligation to provide leadership and hope at a time of great uncertainty and unrest in the world."

Trump has continued to defend the order, saying the ban “is about terror and keeping our country safe" and is not a religious-based "Muslim ban."

This report includes material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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