Trump welcomes Arab ambassadors to his first White House iftar

US President Donald Trump speaks during an iftar dinner hosted at the White House in Washington on Wednesday, June 6. Trump, who has frequently engaged in inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric, defied recent custom by not holding a similar event during his first year in office. (AFP)
Updated 07 June 2018

Trump welcomes Arab ambassadors to his first White House iftar

  • US President thanks “valued partners” and recalls time in Saudi Arabia as “one of the great two days of my life”
  • Saudi ambassador Prince Khalid bin Salman was in attendance and seated at Trump’s table

WASHINGTON, DC: US President Donald Trump welcomed Arab ambassadors on Wednesday to an iftar dinner hosted at the White House, the first he has hosted since taking office 17 months ago, where he referred to his time in Saudi Arabia as “one of the great two days of my life.”

An hour to sunset, the road leading to the White House was cordoned off as guests from the diplomatic community began arriving. 

Around a dozen Arab ambassadors joined the dinner, according to a press pool report, including Saudi Arabia’s, Prince Khalid bin Salman. Also in attendance were ambassadors from the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Morocco and Algeria. 

Prince Khalid was seated at Trump’s table, along with the Jordanian and Indonesian ambassadors.

“Tonight, we give thanks for the renewed bonds of friendship and cooperation we have forged with our valued partners from all across the Middle East,” Trump said in his remarks, before referring to his trip to Saudi Arabia last year, where he made his first foreign state visit. 

“So many of you I spent time with not so long ago — about a year ago. That was one of the great two days of my life. That was one of the most fabulous times, and I think we accomplished a lot together.”

The White House dinner was also attended by President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, Vice President Mike Pence, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. While press secretary Sarah Sanders on Tuesday capped the guest list at 40, the press pool reported that 50 guests attended the dinner. 

The White House did not host an iftar dinner last year, breaking a tradition upheld since 1996. But when news emerged that it would resume the tradition, questions arose as to who would be attending as the White House kept the list quiet. 

On social media, a number of American Muslims even called on other Muslims to boycott the dinner. Many demanded an apology from the president for anti-Muslim rhetoric which they blamed for a rise in Islamophobic attacks.

To protest the event, several Muslim groups gathered outside the White House to host a parallel dinner held on the lawn of Lafayette Square, under the slogan “Not Trump’s Iftar.”
“We are hoping to share Ramadan and iftar with the American people and point out the hypocrisy,” Robert Stephen McCaw, director of government affairs at the Council of American-Islamic Relations, said outside the White House.

He added that if the Trump administration wanted a dialogue with American Muslims then “why are they meeting with foreign leaders?

Hannah Wahaid, a North Virginia resident who joined the iftar, voiced disapproval that those who “work” for the country were not included.

Last year when Trump opted against hosting an iftar dinner, he was also under fire as the American Muslim community had grown accustomed to attending dinners under previous administrations, including presidents Barack Obama and George W Bush.

McCaw said that he was not surprised that the president had cancelled the dinner last year, following an increase in Muslim surveillance and Islamophobic incidents.

“Under the Trump leadership, Muslims have been more harassed than ever,” he said. “In 2017, there was around 2,600 incidents.”

Rose Aslan, from Los Angeles, attended the rally with her husband and son who came to Washington for the summer. 

“I heard about this iftar on Facebook,” she said. “I want to show my objection to the Muslim ban and other policies targeting minority groups in the country.”

Read the full text of the speech by President Donald Trump before the White House iftar: 

Please sit down. Thank you. Good evening, and thank you all for joining us — this iftar dinner —as we celebrate the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. It's a great month. A lot of friends, a lot of great friends.

I want to thank Vice President Pence, Secretary Mnuchin, Secretary Ross, Secretary Chao, Secretary Azar, and Administrator Linda McMahon for being with us tonight. Thank you all very much. Appreciate it. We had a very busy day, a very successful day in Washington, D.C. A lot of great things are happening. Tremendous economy — best we've ever had. And we have a wonderful administration; they're doing a lot of great things.  So that's really terrific.

I also want to thank the members of the Muslim community at home and abroad for joining us.  And a special thanks to Imam Agbere and all of the folks at the US Army. Imam, where are you? Imam? Very nice. Thank you very much for being with us. It's a great honor. Thank you.  (Applause.)

 At tonight's dinner, we especially are pleased to welcome members of the diplomatic corps, representing our friends and partners across the globe. And a very warm welcome to all of the ambassadors here tonight representing Muslim-majority nations. We're greatly honored by your presence, and thank you very much for being here. Some very good friends. To each of you and to the Muslims around the world: Ramadan Mubarak. 

In gathering together this evening, we honor a sacred tradition of one of the world's great religions. For the Islamic faithful, the iftar dinner marks the end of the daily period of fasting and spiritual reflection that occurs throughout the holy month of Ramadan. Iftars mark the coming together of families and friends to celebrate a timeless message of peace, clarity and love.  There is great love. It's a moment to call upon our highest ideals, and to give thanks for the many blessings we enjoy. Thank you very much. 

Tonight, we give thanks for the renewed bonds of friendship and cooperation we have forged with our valued partners from all across the Middle East. So many of you I spent time with not so long ago — about a year ago. That was one of the great two days of my life. That was one of the most fabulous times, and I think we accomplished a lot together. 

Only by working together can we achieve a future of security and prosperity for all. For this reason, I was proud to make my first foreign trip as President to the heart of the Muslim world, where I addressed an assembly of more than 50 leaders of Muslim-majority countries. That was something.

The partnership and solidarity that we established over the past year has only deepened with time. So many friendships. So many meetings, even in the Oval Office. And we've made a lot of progress, I think, a lot of tremendous progress.

So tonight, as we enjoy a magnificent dinner at the White House, let us strive to embody the grace and goodwill that mark the Ramadan season. Let us pray for peace and justice, and let us resolve that these values will guide us as we work together to build a bright and prosperous future that does honor and glory to God.

Thank you very much, and enjoy your evening. Have a very blessed Ramadan. Thank you very much for being here. It's a great honor. (Applause.) (Inaudible.) Thank you.

Flood rescue stepped up as more torrential rain batters Kerala

Updated 10 min 38 sec ago

Flood rescue stepped up as more torrential rain batters Kerala

  • Thousands of people are waiting to be rescued as relentless monsoon rains cause extensive flooding
  • The central government has dispatched military units to Kerala, but state officials are pleading for additional help

KOCHI, India: Rescuers in helicopters and boats fought through renewed torrential rain Saturday to reach stranded villages in India’s Kerala state as the toll from the worst monsoon floods in a century rose above 320 dead.
Dozens of military and coast guard helicopters took troops to high risk areas seeking people trapped on the roofs of submerged buildings. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the crisis as “devastating” after visiting Kerala.
Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced late Friday that the monsoon death toll had dramatically risen to 324.
Media reports said at least another 14 bodies were found Saturday and state officials said they expected the number to rise as more landslides were reported and dam levels remained dangerously high. No new official toll was given however.
With power and communication lines down, thousands remained trapped in towns and villages cut off by the floods amid growing shortages of food and water.
Helicopters have been dropping emergency food and water supplies across Kerala, while special trains carrying drinking water and rice have been sent to the state.

With rain alerts hanging over much of the state, dozens of dam and reservoir gates across the state have had to be opened as the waters reached danger levels, inundating many villages downstream.
Particular fears have been raised for Chengannur, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of the state capital Thiruvananthapuram, which has been cut off for four days.
Troops and military boats have been sent to the town and media reports said bodies had been found. The state government did not immediately give an updated toll early Saturday.
Saji Cherian, who represents Chengannur in the Kerala assembly, said he feared there were at least 50 dead in the town and broke down in tears as he pleaded for more help on Asianet TV late Friday.
“Please give us a helicopter. I am begging you. Please help me, people in my place will die. Please help us. There is no other solution, people have to be airlifted,” he said.
“We did what we can with fishing boats we procured using our political clout. But we can’t do more.”

With no end in sight to the rains, people all over the state of 33 million have made panic-stricken appeals on social media for help, saying they cannot make contact with rescue services.
Some say they are trapped inside temples and hospitals as well as submerged homes.
Authorities have warned that rains and strong winds are predicted for many parts of Kerala on Saturday and Sunday.
Prime Minister Modi arrived in Kerala on Friday night and held meetings with state leaders and went on a brief air inspection tour.
“I took stock of the situation arising in the wake of the devastating floods across the state,” Modi said in a Twitter statement.
An immediate grant of $75 million was offered by the government. Other state governments promised nearly $20 million.
Opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi demanded though that Modi declare the flood crisis a “national disaster.”
Dozens of military helicopters stepped up rescue operations across the state and in one a heavily pregnant woman Sajita Jabeel, 25, gave birth just after her rescue, an Indian Navy spokesman said.

“It was a very critical case, the lady was in labor, her water had broken,” the pilot, the pilot Commandeer Vijay Verma told News18 television.
“We took a doctor along, we winched her up, it took some time though because we had to winch down two people to help her get on to the strop.”
Another pilot, Captain P. Rajkumar, winched 26 people up from a rooftop after guiding the helicopter through trees and other houses.
A video of his Sea King pulling up the victims has been widely shared on social media. He ended up with 32 people in his Sea King helicopter.
Rajkumar was given the Shaurya Chakra medal for bravery this week after lifting a fisherman from the sea when cyclone Ockhi hit India last year.