As another prong in President Donald Trump’s efforts regarding refugees from war-torn nations, he and Saudi Arabian King Salman spoke on the phone earlier this week regarding the establishment of “safe zones” in places like Syria and Yemen.

These safe zones, once established, would provide people who would otherwise become refugees with a safe area to gather if displaced by ongoing conflicts within the region.  During Trump’s campaign, he called on Gulf nations to pay for the establishment of such areas to reduce the number of people left with no option but to flee their nation of origin.

“The president requested, and the King agreed, to support safe zones in Syria and Yemen, as well as supporting other ideas to help the many refugees who are displaced by the ongoing conflicts,” an official White House statement said.

Saudi Arabia’s state media outlets did not discuss the safe zones when reporting on the conversation between the new American president and the Saudi monarch, but did say that the two reaffirmed the “depth and durability of the strategic relationship” between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

According to sources within the Saudi media, President Trump and King Salman spoke for the better part of an hour regarding counter-terrorism efforts in the Arab world, as well as both military and economic cooperation between their respective countries.

The White House statement also indicated that they spoke about Iran specifically, and its “destabilizing regional activities.”  Saudi Arabia shares similar views to those held by leaders in the United States regarding Iran, particularly that the Iranian government has been working to expand its influence throughout the region.  Trump also indicated that he may enforce the nuclear deal made with Iran, rather than abandoning it as some predicted when he took office.

The Saudi King addressed the Muslim Brotherhood with President Trump as well, citing Osama Bin Laden as a member that was “recruited at an early stage” by the organization.  Three Arab nations (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) have already designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group.  The United States has yet to make any such distinction regarding the organization, but sources within the White House suggest that debate is ongoing about whether or not things will remain that way.  If Trump chooses to identify the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, they will be subject to sanctions from the United States and likely from other allied nations.

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Before the two men concluded their conversation, the Saudi King invited President Trump to “lead a Middle East effort to defeat terrorism and to help build a new future, economically and socially, for the people of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the region.”

There was no mention in the White House statement or Saudi media of President Trump’s executive order regarding refugees and immigration that has made headlines in the United States and throughout the world in the days since their conversation, so it can be assumed that the two heads of state did not discuss the hot button issue.  Considering their discussion regarding refugees relied heavily on the idea of people finding refuge in protected portions of their own nation, it can be assumed that Trump’s decision to enact the executive order would not be contradictory to the agreement he was able to come to with the Saudi King, though the cultural backlash that followed the order, particularly those who refer to it as a “ban on Muslims” could potentially have negative effects on how the two parties interact moving forward.

 

Image courtesy of Reuters