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Trump to give speech on Islam during Saudi visit

  Trump defends revealing intel secrets to Russians

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House yesterday. Talks were expected to focus on ways to mend ties frayed over Syria and the presence in the US of Erdogan foe Fethullah Gulen. – AFP

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump will urge unity between the world’s major faiths on an ambitious first foreign trip that will take him to Saudi Arabia, the Vatican and Jerusalem, the White House said yesterday. National Security Advisor HR McMaster laid out a detailed itinerary for the “historic trip”, due to start late this week, and confirmed that Trump would address a gathering of Muslim leaders on his “hopes for a peaceful vision of Islam”.

Previous US leaders have generally chosen a US neighbor such as Canada or Mexico for their first presidential voyage, but Trump intends to plunge right into some of the world’s most difficult spiritual and political conflicts. In Saudi Arabia, after a day of talks with King Salman and his crown prince, Trump will attend a gathering of dozens of leaders from across the Muslim world.

“He will meet and have lunch with leaders of more than 50 Muslim countries, where he will deliver an inspiring, direct speech on the need to confront radical ideology and the president’s hopes for a peaceful vision of Islam,” McMaster told reporters. “The speech is intended to unite the broader Muslim world against common enemies of all civilization and to demonstrate America’s commitment to our Muslim partners,” he said, adding that Trump will help open a center to de-radicalize extremists.

Trump campaigned for office vowing to destroy “radical Islamic terrorism” and impose “a total ban on all Muslim immigration” to the United States, raising concerns that his election would only deepen distrust between America and the Muslim world. In office since Jan 20, he has already attempted to impose a ban on travellers from a group of mainly-Muslim countries, before his order fell foul of US courts.

But McMaster stressed that Trump would be visiting sites associated with the world’s great religions to stress “that we all have to be united and we have to be joined together with an agenda of tolerance and moderation”. After Saudi Arabia, Trump’s voyage will take him to Jerusalem, where he will meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and visit the Vad Yashem memorial to the Holocaust. The next day he will pray at the Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites.

On the same day, he will meet President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian territories in Bethlehem on the West Bank “where he will convey his administration’s eagerness to facilitate an agreement that ends” the Israel-Palestinian conflict. McMaster failed to answer a direct question as to whether the US government considers the Western Wall to be within Israeli territory, and he said Israeli leaders would not accompany him on his visit to the site in Jerusalem’s Old City. “He’s going to the Western Wall mainly in connection with the theme to connect with three of the world’s great religions,” McMaster said.

After Jerusalem, Trump will head to the Vatican for an audience with Pope Francis. The US leader will celebrate the contributions of Catholics to America and the world, discuss diplomatic issues with the pontiff and tour St Peter’s Basilica. After the Vatican, the trip takes a secular turn with a visit to Belgium to meet European Union officials and attend the NATO summit on May 24-25. He then heads to Italy and the island of Sicily for the G7 summit on May 26 and 27.

Separately, Trump insisted yesterday he had the right to share “facts” with Russia, one day after bombshell allegations that he divulged highly classified intelligence to Russian diplomats in the Oval Office. According to an explosive report from the Washington Post, Trump revealed highly classified information on the Islamic State group during a meeting last week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Moscow’s man in Washington Sergey Kislyak.

In a shock twist, the information reportedly came from a US ally who had not authorized Washington to share it with Moscow, a potential blow to intelligence relationships based on trust that secrets will be kept. “As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W H meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety,” Trump pushed back in an early morning tweet. Trump wrote that he was motivated by “humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism”.

The US leader’s disclosure of classified information did not break the law, according to the national security blog Lawfare, but such revelations could expose sources and methods and “substantially harm” US intelligence gathering partnerships with foreign governments. “This is perhaps the gravest allegation of presidential misconduct in the scandal-ridden four months of the Trump administration,” the blog said. “This story is likely to be immensely consequential.”

McMaster denied the president revealed “intelligence sources or methods,” but acknowledged that Trump and Lavrov “reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries, including threats to civil aviation”. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov yesterday dubbed the news “nonsense”, saying it was not worth confirming or denying.

The Post, citing unnamed officials, said Trump went off script during the meeting, describing details about an Islamic State terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on airplanes, revealing the city where the information was gathered. The Trump administration recently barred the use of laptops in the passenger cabin from several countries in the Middle East and is mulling the expansion of that ban to cover jets originating in Europe.

The revelations are the latest in a wave of crises to hit the White House, which late Monday was in a state of shock, with aides frantically trying to put out the fire and determine the source of such damaging leaks. “I have been asking Director Comey & others, from the beginning of my administration, to find the LEAKERS in the intelligence community,” Trump tweeted yesterday.

Political and legal experts said this latest misstep is among the most egregious so far of Trump’s presidency. For Trump’s already weary allies in Congress, the latest crisis brought more headaches and demanded yet more explanation from an administration that is struggling to leave its legislative mark. “The White House has got to do something soon to bring itself under control and in order. It’s got to happen,” said Republican Senator Bob Corker. “Obviously, they’re in a downward spiral right now, and they’ve got to figure out a way to come to grips (with) all that’s happening,” Corker said.
Meanwhile, top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer accused Trump of potentially putting American lives at risk. “If the report is true, it is very disturbing. Revealing classified information at this level is extremely dangerous and puts at risk the lives of Americans and those who gather intelligence for our country,” the New York senator said. “The president owes the intelligence community, the American people and Congress a full explanation.” – Agencies

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