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Trump urges Muslim leaders to purge their societies of ‘foot soldiers of evil’

By PETER BAKER and MICHAEL D. SHEAR

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – President Donald Trump sought to rally leaders from around the Muslim world on Sunday in a renewed campaign against extremism.

Trump, who during last year’s presidential campaign said he thought that “Islam hates us” and proposed a ban on all Muslims entering the United States, sounded different themes in a speech to Muslim leaders here in the Saudi capital. While declaring terrorism to be a “battle between good and evil,” he said that it should be fought by “decent people” of all religions.

Coming on the second day of Trump’s inaugural trip overseas as president, the address was designed as the centerpiece of his stop in Riyadh, where he met with Arab leaders and convened a larger gathering of Muslim leaders. In effect, the speech was meant as a reset from the harsher tone and policies Trump adopted as a candidate last year and in the early days of his presidency.

“This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects or different civilizations,” Trump said. “This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life and decent people, all in the name of religion. People want to protect life and want to protect their religion. This is a battle between good and evil.”

While he has criticized President Barack Obama and others for not using the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” his staff sought to ensure that he not use it in the speech here to this Muslim audience. The advance excerpts sent out by the White House had him instead embracing a subtle but significant switch, using the term “Islamist extremism.” Some experts say the word Islamist reflects extremists without tarring the entire religion.

But when that moment in the speech came, Trump went off script and used both words, Islamic and Islamist. “That means honestly confronting the crisis of Islamic extremism and the Islamists and Islamic terror of all kinds,” Trump said. It was unclear whether he stumbled over the different word or consciously rejected the change suggested by the text.

Either way, he sought to put more of the burden on Muslim leaders, calling on them to do more to confront extremism in their midst.

“We are not here to lecture,” he said. “We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership – based on shared interests and values – to pursue a better future for us all.”

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