Trump welcomed to Saudi Arabia as trouble swirls at home

Henrietta Strickland
May 22, 2017

"This package of defence equipment and services support the long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of Iranian threats, while also bolstering the Kingdom's ability to contribute to counter terrorism operations across the region", the White House said in a statement on Saturday, as quoted by CNBC News.

After an overnight flight, the president was greeted at the airport by King Salman, which was notable given that the monarch did not show up a year ago to welcome President Barack Obama on his final visit to Saudi Arabia.

He travels to Israel and the Palestinian Territories on Monday and Tuesday, and then to the Vatican and to Brussels and Italy for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and G7 meetings.

The 81-year-old king, walking with a cane, led the president and first lady into an airport reception room, where they chatted over coffee.

Trump lauded the deals as "tremendous investments in the United States".

Several jets then flew overhead leaving a red, white and blue trail.

Soon after, Trump tweeted for the first time on worldwide soil as president.

Trump's warm welcome reflected the degree to which Saudi Arabia had become disillusioned with Obama. "Looking forward to the afternoon and evening ahead". Trump was due to spend much of Saturday in meetings with King Salman and his government, including the powerful Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

In the capital of Riyadh, Saudi King Salman greeted Trump warmly and later presented him with the kingdom's highest civilian honor, a gold medal, during a ceremony at the grand Saudi Royal Court.

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.

His firing of Federal Bureau of Investigation head James Comey on May 9 and the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Trump's 2016 presidential election campaign ties to Russia have raised the question of whether he tried to squelch a probe into allegations of a Russian connection. He also told them that firing Comey had "taken off" the "great pressure" he was feeling from the investigation, the Times reported.

Trump arrived in Riyadh after an overnight flight and was welcomed at elaborate airport ceremony punctuated by a military flyover and a handshake from Saudi King Salman. In addition, Comey agreed to testify at an open hearing of the Senate intelligence committee in the near future, the panel said. The Saudis deeply distrusted Obama's overtures to Iran and were frustrated by his restrained approach to the Syrian civil war.

Joining Trump inside was a long parade of advisers, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, chief of staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Steve Bannon, senior advisers Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, press secretary Sean Spicer, and Trump's former bodyguard, Keith Schiller. She and President Trump arrived in Saudi Arabia Saturday on the opening leg of his first worldwide tour since taking office. Trump had criticized former-lady Michelle Obama for not wearing a headscarf during a 2015 visit to the kingdom.

Mr Trump will hold talks with leaders in the ultra-conservative kingdom later today and is to give a speech on "hopes for a peaceful vision of Islam" to 50 Arab and Muslim leaders tomorrow. It has been touted as a major event - along the lines of a landmark address to the Islamic world given by Obama in Cairo in 2009.

The draft also abandons some of the harsh anti-Muslim rhetoric that defined Trump's presidential campaign and does not contain the words "radical Islamic terror", a phrase Trump repeatedly criticized Hillary Clinton for not using during last year's campaign.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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