Trump arrives in Saudi Arabia, seeks to move past domestic troubles
National oil giant Saudi Aramco expected to sign $50 billion of deals with US companies on Saturday, part of a drive to diversify the kingdom’s economy beyond oil exports, Aramco’s chief executive Amin Nasser said.
He will also travel to Israel, have an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican and attend the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit in Brussels and the G7 meeting in Sicily.
The first lady dressed conservatively in a black pantsuit with a golden belt as the pair left Air Force One and were greeted by King Salman.
White House officials have said they consider Trump’s visit, and his keynote address, a counterweight to President Obama’s debut speech to the Muslim world in 2009 in Cairo.
Several jets also flew overhead leaving a red, white and blue trail.
National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said the speech will be “inspiring” and reflective if the president’s hopes for “a peaceful vision of Islam to dominate across the world”.
“She is going on invitation of Saudi King”.
Administration officials have offered no indication that Trump intends to walk back the harsh campaign rhetoric even as he looks to change his image as an anti-Muslim president.
Trump and the 81-year-old Salman were seen in friendly conversation inside the Royal Terminal just after Trump touched down, and the two leaders shared a long drive from the airport to central Riyadh, where the President is staying.
For Riyadh the visit is an opportunity to rebuild ties with a key ally, strained under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama who Sunni Arab Gulf states suspected of a tilt towards their Shiite regional rival Iran.
The king and Trump were overheard discussing natural resources and arms, and the king bemoaned the destruction caused by Syria’s civil war.
The Trumps will also visit Belgium, and the trip includes an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican. However, the White House at the time said she meant to make a statement in a country where women have been discriminated against and have few rights. This week, the Justice Department relented to pressure from Democrats and named former Federal Bureau of Investigation chief Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead the probe.
Moments after Trump lifted off for Saudi Arabia, fresh reports stemming from the Russian Federation investigation surfaced and threatened to overshadow the trip.
The New York Times reported Trump had called Comey a “nut job” in a private meeting last week in the Oval Office with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak.
Despite his domestic troubles, Trump was expected to get a warm reception in Saudi Arabia.
When Barack Obama visited the kingdom past year – the last of four trips, more than any other USA president – the king did not meet him at the airport.
Women here, including visitors and foreign dignitaries, are expected to be fully covered in public, including their head and hair, per religious and legal code.
When former first lady Michelle Obama visited Riyadh in 2015 with her husband, to pay respects to the late Saudi King Abdullah, she did not cover her hair.
Trump’s stop in the Saudi capital is the first in an eight-day, five-country swing through the Middle East and Europe.
In a sweetener for Saudi Arabia, U.S. officials said the Trump administration planned to announce $110 billion in advanced military equipment sales and training to the kingdom.
Later Saturday, Trump received the nation’s highest civilian honor from Salman.
He will join Muslim country leaders at the Arab Islamic American Summit on Sunday.