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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Trump calls for American foreign assistance to serve US interests 

The president's speech was a lap of honour for his first year and a reminder of the work to come

Worshippers shout slogans during Friday prayer in front of the Dome of the Rock mosque at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Jerusalem's Old City. Israel deployed hundreds of additional police officers following Palestinian calls for protests after the main weekly Muslim prayers against president Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Ahmad Gharabli / AFP
Worshippers shout slogans during Friday prayer in front of the Dome of the Rock mosque at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Jerusalem's Old City. Israel deployed hundreds of additional police officers following Palestinian calls for protests after the main weekly Muslim prayers against president Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Ahmad Gharabli / AFP

In a State of the Union speech that focused primarily on domestic affairs, president Donald Trump found the time to turn his attention towards the Middle East.

Mr Trump offered his support to Iranian protesters and expressed his dislike of the Iran nuclear deal. He doubled down on his threat to punish allies who object to America’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and celebrated the rout of ISIL from Iraq and Syria.

In doing so his Middle East message reflected the rest of his speech: Both a lap of honour for his first year and a reminder to his supporters of the work to come, all dressed up in an "America first" message.

In particular Mr Trump railed against the countries that voted against the US at the UN General Assembly for its decision regarding Jerusalem.

“American taxpayers generously send those same countries billions of dollars in aid every year,” he said.

“That is why, tonight, I am asking the congress to pass legislation to help ensure American foreign-assistance dollars always serve American interests, and only go to America's friends.”

It was also a chance for the president to celebrate the purge of ISIL from its strongholds and renew his pledge to eliminate the group from the “face of the Earth”.

“One year later, I am proud to report that the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated almost 100 per cent of the territory once held by these killers in Iraq and Syria,” he said. “But there is much more work to be done. We will continue our fight until ISIS is defeated.”

Mr Trump told the moving story of Army Staff Sergeant Justin Peck, who saved the life of Kenton Stacy, wounded as they cleared a booby-trapped hospital near Raqqa in Syria. Just one of the made-for-TV moments that peppered the night.

“Tonight, Kenton is recovering in Texas. Raqqa is liberated. And Justin is wearing his new Bronze Star, with a ‘V’ for valour,” said Mr Trump.

But amid the tear jerking stories were also reminders of America's foreign policy challenges, like Iran.

"As we strengthen friendships around the world, we are also restoring clarity about our adversaries,"

“When the people of Iran rose up against the crimes of their corrupt dictatorship, I did not stay silent. America stands with the people of Iran in their courageous struggle for freedom,” he said.

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Read more:

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Trump calls on the world to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions

Team Trump says president aims to mend fences in State of Union address