Multi-billion dollar deals between the US and Saudi Arabia will be signed on Saturday as US President Donald Trump’s first foreign trip begins in Riyadh.
Dogged by controversy at home, Donald Trump opened his first presidential foreign trip in Saudi Arabia on Saturday and won a warm reception as he looked to shift attention from a political firestorm over his firing of former FBI Director James Comey.
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz greeted him on a red carpet as he stepped off Air Force One, shaking the hand of his wife, Melania, and riding in the U.S. presidential limousine. It was a warmer welcome than had been granted to Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, who was seen in the Arab kingdom as soft on Iran and hesitant on Syria.
Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Italy, the Vatican and Belgium has been billed by the White House as a chance to visit places sacred to three of the world’s major religions, while giving Trump time to meet with Arab, Israeli and European leaders.
Mr Trump is accompanied on his visit by his daughter Ivanka, an unpaid White House adviser, and her husband Jared Kushner, a key member of the Trump cabinet. Like British Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on their recent visits to Saudi Arabia, Mrs Trump and Ivanka Trump did not wear headscarves.
Like other recent female Western visitors, the Ms Trump did not cover her hair upon arrival in the conservative Islamic kingdom. Earlier this year German Chancellor Angela Morkel opted not to do so. Prime Minister Theresa May also decided not to eschew the dress code in the conservative country, saying she wanted to be a role model for oppressed women.
However, Donald Trump previously criticised former First Lady Michelle Obama for not wearing a head scarf during a visit to the Middle Eastern country. In a 2015 tweet, he wrote: “Many people are saying it was wonderful that Mrs Obama refused to wear a scarf in Saudi Arabia, but they were insulted. We have enuf enemies”.
During his two – day visit, Mr Trump is expected to make a speech urging Arab leaders to “drive out the terrorists from your places of worship” and will throw his support behind the country, while simultaneously criticizing the Assad regime in Syria for its “unspeakable crimes against humanity”, and Iran for contributing to its spiralling violence. The US president will also likely announce a $350 billion (£268.5 billion) arms deal with Saudi Arabia – one of the largest of its kind in US history.
Trump and King Salman seemed at ease with each other, chatting through an interpreter. At the royal al-Yamama palace, the king decorated Trump with the King Abdulaziz medal, the country’s top civilian honor.
The two leaders exchanged tweets, Trump saying it was great to be in Riyadh and King Salman welcoming him.
“Mr. President, your visit will strengthen our strategic cooperation, lead to global security and stability,” King Salman said in a message on his official Twitter account in Arabic and English.
Trump’s decision to make his first official trip abroad to Saudi Arabia, followed by Israel, countries which both share his antagonism towards Iran, marks a contrast with Obama’s approach.
On Sunday, Mr Trump will attend the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh and speak about his “hopes of a peaceful vision of Islam”. Aides say the president hopes his speech will resonate worldwide and express “a common vision of peace, progress and prosperity”.
Mr Trump caused controversy during his campaign by calling for Muslims to be temporarily banned from entering the US over security concerns. Legislation aimed at restricting travel from several Muslim-majority countries remains tied up in the US courts.
The summit agenda is expected to focus on combating Islamist militants and the growing regional influence of Iran.