In Sisi, King Abdullah meetings, Trump shows changed focus
Washington - The United States is ready to take a more active role in Middle East matters, US President Donald Trump is telling the world.
“I now have responsibility,” Trump said during a news conference at the White House after the poison gas attack in northern Syria that killed scores of civilians. Not long after those remarks, he ordered a missile strike on a Syrian airfield in response to the gas attack, provoking angry reactions from Damascus and Moscow.
In the course of three days, Trump hosted two key Middle Eastern allies — Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II — in separate meetings.
The visits came as Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, a general with first-hand knowledge of the Middle East, consolidated his power in the National Security Council.
Critics accused Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, of turning his back on the Middle East after US efforts to breathe life into the Israeli-Palestinian peace process failed. US allies in the region felt abandoned as the nuclear deal with Iran under Obama raised fears of a more aggressive regional approach by Tehran and as Russia sidelined the United States in the Syrian war.
Speaking after the chemical attack in Syria’s Idlib province, Trump hinted at US action in the war-torn country. “It crossed a lot of lines for me,” he said, adding that his view of the Syrian civil war and of Syrian President Bashar Assad had “changed”. US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley spoke of the possible necessity of unilateral action by the United States in Syria.
Trump accused Obama of weakening the United States’ position in the Middle East and is concentrating on fighting jihadist groups, especially the Islamic State (ISIS). In meetings with the Egyptian and Jordanian leaders, the US president focused on security issues and steered away from the post-“Arab spring” agenda of his predecessor.
Trump stressed Washington’s support for Sisi as a leader fighting against Islamist extremism and ignored criticism of Egypt’s human rights record. He emphasised he was “very much behind” the Egyptian president. US officials said the aim was to “reboot” a relationship that ran into difficulties under Obama.
Sisi, pleased to receive an invitation to the White House that he failed to get under Obama, welcomed Trump’s approach. “There is a true understanding of realities in the region,” he told Fox News in reference to the changes he sees under the new administration.
Trump also voiced his support for King Abdullah, whom he called a “leader in calling for a plan to defeat ISIS once and for all” and who had become the first Arab leader to meet the new US President in an earlier visit in February.