Melania Trump Hails 'Empowerment of Women' at Saudi Company Visit

President Trump yesterday painted a stark new portrait of USA goals in the Middle East in a speech that exhorted Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries to vanquish extremists and signaled the abandoning long-standing ambitions to spread freedom and transform the region, analysts said. On the other hand, it is a pretty glaring change from what he's been saying for years and years.

In a sunlit ballroom Sunday morning at the Tuwaiq Palace in Saudi Arabia, Ivanka Trump's proposed Women Entrepreneurs Fund - a concept she first shared during her own inaugural global trip as first daughter last month to Berlin, Germany - was promised a combined $100 million by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates specifically to help women in the Middle East. He called the tiny rich country of Qatar a "crucial strategic partner".

Under President Barack Obama, Washington had backed Saudi Arabia in its Yemen war with logistical support, including refueling of coalition aircraft by the US military, and intelligence sharing. Trump praised Bahrain and Kuwait for anti-terrorism efforts.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif fired back at Trump in a tweet that Trump had attacked Iran in "that bastion of democracy & moderation" of Saudi Arabia and suggested he had "milked" his hosts for hundreds of billions of dollars in business deals.

She said it includes a pledge to prosecute the financing of terrorism, including individuals.

Trump's friendly rhetoric did not extend to the Iran and Syria regimes, which Trump condemned for supporting "extremist groups that spread chaos and destruction" and committing atrocities.

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Until Iran is willing to change, he said, all nations "must work together to isolate it".

Pledges to isolate Iran are essentially returning to a "status quo" in relations between the USA and the Arab world, Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told NPR's Morning Edition in March.

The anti-Iran rhetoric is welcome to the Saudi royalty.

In the speech, Trump backed off the term "radical Islamic terrorism" - a phrase that, on the campaign trail, he had frequently criticized Obama for not using. The Saudis were vehemently opposed to President Obama's communications with Iran and his backing of the 2015 nuclear deal, which saw many sanctions lifted against the country.

Among the agreements was an arms deal worth nearly $110 billion with Saudi Arabia, described as the largest in US history, which US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said was aimed in particular at countering "malign Iranian influence".

Unlike the Obama administration which would often raise concerns over civil liberties with longstanding Arab allies, Trump has made no mention of human rights during his visit so far.

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"Instead, we are here to offer partnership - based on shared interests and values - to pursue a better future for us all", Trump said.

Saudi Arabia's military is leading a campaign against Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, and have routinely been accused of indiscriminate targeting by human rights organizations. The Obama administration had a hard relationship with Sisi, who came to power after leading a military coup in 2013 during which hundreds of demonstrators were killed, and has since jailed thousands of opponents.

President Obama had at times raised human rights issues in his trips to Saudi Arabia and meetings with Saudi officials, though not always. Bahrain is home to the USA fleet in the Middle East.

Trump's speech came amid a renewed courtship of the United States' Arab allies.

Prime Minister Sharif arrived in Riyadh to attend the summit on the invitation of King Salman Bin Abdulaziz. Trump says the deal will create jobs. As Adnan Zulfiqar, a Truman National Security project fellow, told Buzzfeed: "He easily engages with Islam as a foreign 'other, ' as opposed to Islam and Muslims as part of the American fabric".

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