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White House: Trump mentions building Syrian ‘safe zones’ during calls with leaders of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi

President Trump gives a thumbs-up to reporters as he waits to speak by phone with Saudi Arabia's King Salman on Sunday. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

In calls with the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi on Sunday afternoon, the White House says President Trump brought up the idea of building “safe zones” in Syria. That concept appeared in early drafts of the executive order the president signed Friday that barred all Syrian refugees from resettling in the United States — but it did not appear in the final version that was released Friday night.

For more than a year on the campaign trail, Trump promised to halt the flow of Syrian refugees into the country, warning that they could be a “Trojan horse,” a secret terrorist army that could destroy the nation. But he said that the United States would aid the humanitarian crisis caused by millions of Syrians fleeing the war in their country by setting up a “safe zone” in Syria and then forcing wealthy Persian Gulf nations such as Saudi Arabia to pick up the bill.

“They’re gonna put up all the money,” Trump said during a major immigration speech in Phoenix in August. “We’re not gonna put up money. We’re gonna lead it, and we’ll do a great a job. But we’re gonna get the Gulf states to put up the money.”

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Trump brought up safe zones during phone calls with Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdul Aziz and Abu Dhabi's crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, according to statements from the White House that make no mention who will fund the safe zones.

Following the call with Salman, the White House said in a statement: “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.”

Salman's office released a statement about the call that made no mention of safe zones.

The White House released a second statement following Trump's call with Abu Dhabi's crown prince that said: “The President also raised the idea of supporting safe zones for the refugees displaced by the conflict in the region, and the Crown Prince agreed to support this initiative.”

Trump has provided no details about what this safe zone would look like and who would protect it. The Obama administration ruled out the idea, which both Trump and his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, proposed on the campaign trail.

Read the full text of the Iran nuclear deal

In the call with Salman, the White House also said that the president discussed the Iran nuclear agreement. Trump had originally said that he would rip up or renegotiate the deal as soon as he took office, but on Sunday the two leaders “agreed on the importance of rigorously enforcing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran and of addressing Iran’s destabilizing regional activities,” the White House said.

The White House stated that the two leaders discussed “the importance of strengthening joint efforts to fight the spread of radical Islamic terrorism,” while the statement from the Saudi government instead referred generally to “terrorism.”

“The views of the two leaders were identical on the files that were discussed during the call, including the fight against terrorism, extremism, their finance, formulating the appropriate mechanisms for that, and confronting those who seek to undermine security and stability in the region and interfere in the internal affairs of other states,” that statement read.