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Story highlights

McMaster said jihadist terrorists aren't true to their religion

He also signaled that Russia is an adversary, not a friend

(CNN) —  

New national security adviser H.R. McMaster is already setting a strikingly different tone than his ousted predecessor, Michael Flynn, and President Donald Trump, saying the term “radical Islamic terrorism” isn’t helpful for US goals.

At an all-hands meeting of the National Security Council on Thursday, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster said jihadist terrorists aren’t true to their professed religion and that the use of the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” doesn’t help the US in working with allies to defeat terrorist groups, an official present at the session confirmed to CNN.

The phrase is unhelpful because terrorist organizations like ISIS represent a perversion of Islam, and are thus un-Islamic, McMaster said, according to a source who attended the meeting.

An administration official acknowledged there is a “genuine difference of opinion” between Trump and McMaster on the use of “radical Islamic terrorism,” but said McMaster is not telling the President he’s wrong, and added it’s not a “major difference.”

A source also said McMaster signaled that Russia was an adversary, not a friend. And, in contrast to White House strategist Steve Bannon, who has called the European Union a flawed institution and expressed a desire to forge stronger ties with individual European countries, McMaster defended the post-World War II world order, saying it was important for maintaining peace and security.

The meeting was “very good for morale” among the career NSC staff, the source said. The national security adviser’s comments Thursday, which were first reported by The New York Times, and a separate email to all staff on Wednesday have buoyed the low morale at the agency, which has been largely sidelined in recent weeks because of the questions surrounding Flynn’s conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kilsyak.

The retired lieutenant general resigned last week after it became public that he did not tell Vice President Mike Pence that conversations he had with the Russian ambassador included discussion about US sanctions. Career staff have described the NSC as a dead zone, with little activity while Flynn was in the throes of the controversy.

Flynn’s deputy, K.T. McFarland, was present Thursday when McMaster spoke to NSC staff, the source said.

On Friday, during his remarks to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, the President again used the term “radical Islamic terrorists,” as he often did on the campaign trail when criticizing President Barack Obama for not saying it.

“So let me state this as clearly as I can, we are going to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country,” Trump said. “We will not be deterred from this course, and in a matter of days we will be taking brand new action to protect our people and keep America safe. You will see the action.”

CNN’s Elise Labott, Elizabeth Landers and Eugene Scott contributed to this report.