President Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia marks "the beginning of a turning point" in U.S.-Islamic relations, according to the monarchy's top diplomat.
"Today was a truly historic day in the relationship between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States and we believe at the beginning of a turning point in the relationship between the United States and the Arab and Islamic world," Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said at a joint press conference with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Saturday.
That's unlikely praise for a president once lambasted for proposing, during his campaign, a ban on Muslims entering the United States. It followed a signing ceremony for a weapons deal worth nearly $110 billion, part of an aggressive plan to counteract Iran's play for regional hegemony in the Middle East. Tillerson emphasized that the deal would support American jobs and advance Trump's goal of having U.S. allies and partners shoulder more of the burden for their own security.
"This growing partnership is really grounded in trust, trust between our two nations that we are pursuing the same objectives, cooperation, and a shared interest," Tillerson said. "The package of defense equipment and services supports the long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the entire Gulf region, in particular in the face of malign Iranian influence and Iranian-related threats, which exist on Saudi Arabia's borders on all sides."
Tillerson also touted "a new Saudi-led hub" for counteracting jihadist propaganda online. "This center is going to concentrate heavily on how to enter that space, from the standpoint of experts that live in this part of the world and understand how to message to those who might be influenced by radical messaging," he said.
The State Department struggled to produce persuasive online anti-ISIS messaging in recent years, so that could be a significant step in counteracting terrorist recruiters. It's also notable because the Saudi Arabians have long been faulted for funding schools around the world that propagated extremist ideas. "They promote a very toxic form of Islam that draws sharp lines between a small number of true believers and everyone else, Muslim and non-Muslim," William McCants, a Brookings Institution scholar, told the New York Times.
Jubeir repeatedly framed the agreement, with the attendant diplomatic summits, as a watershed moment for the United States and the Islamic world beyond Saudi Arabia.
"If we can change the conversation in the Islamic world from enmity towards the U.S. to partnership with the U.S., and if we can change the conversation in the U.S. and in the West, from enmity towards the Islamic world toward one of partnership we will have truly changed our world," Jubeir said. "And we will have truly drowned the voices of extremism and we will have drained the swamps from which extremism and terrorism emanates."