Trump receives regal welcome in Saudi Arabia

2017-05-20 17:57
President Donald Trump and Saudi King Salman wave to the crowd during a signing ceremony at the Royal Court Palace in Riyadh. (Evan Vucci, AP)

President Donald Trump and Saudi King Salman wave to the crowd during a signing ceremony at the Royal Court Palace in Riyadh. (Evan Vucci, AP)

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Riyadh - President Donald Trump, in the first stop of his maiden trip abroad, received a regal welcome in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, feted by the wealthy kingdom as he aims to forge strong alliances to combat terrorism while pushing past the multiple controversies threatening to engulf his young administration.

For one day, anyway, Trump appeared successful in keeping his domestic woes an ocean away, as he basked in the pageantry that began with an elaborate airport welcome ceremony punctuated by a military flyover and a handshake from Saudi King Salman.

Military deals

He later was given a tour of one of Riyadh's most opulent palaces and sat through an elaborate signing ceremony in which, one by one, the Saudis agreed to military deals with the US government and private businesses. Trump was kept a distance from reporters who were unable to ask about the tumult at home.

Trump is the only American president to make Saudi Arabia, or any majority Muslim country, his first stop overseas - a choice designed in part to show respect to the region after more than a year of Trump's harsh anti-Muslim campaign rhetoric.

The visit kicked off an ambitious international debut for Trump. After two days of meetings here, Trump will travel to Israel, have an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican and meet with allies at a Nato summit in Brussels and the Group of 7 powerful nations in Sicily.

Trump waved from the doorway after Air Force One touched down and before descending the staircase with first lady Melania Trump. The 81-year-old King Salman, who used a cane for support, was brought to the steps of the plane in a golf cart. The leaders exchanged pleasantries and Trump said it was "a great honour" to be there.

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

Soon after, Trump tweeted for the first time on international soil as president, writing that it was "great" to be in Saudi Arabia.

Military package

At a later ceremony at the grand Saudi Royal Court, the king placed the Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud, the nation's highest civilian honour, around Trump's neck. The medal, given to Trump for his efforts to strengthen ties in the region, has also been bestowed on Russian President Vladimir Putin, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama.

The king and Trump were overheard discussing natural resources and arms and the king bemoaned the destruction caused by Syria's civil war. Trump also agreed to a defence cooperation deal with the Saudis, pledging $110bn effective immediately and up to $350bn over 10 years, as well as some private sector agreements. The military package includes tanks, combat ships, missile defence systems, radar and communications as well as cyber security technology.

White House officials hope the trip, complete with images of the accompanying pomp and pageantry of a president abroad, will help Trump recalibrate after one of the most difficult stretches of his young presidency. The White House bungled the president's stunning firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was overseeing a federal investigation into possible ties between Trump's campaign and Russia. This week, the Justice Department relented to pressure from Democrats and named former FBI chief Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead the probe.

Open hearing

But fresh news reports about the Russia investigation surfaced shortly after Trump departed and threatened to overshadow the nine-day trip.

The New York Times reported that Trump called Comey "a real nut job" while discussing the ongoing investigation with two Russian officials in the Oval Office earlier this month. He also told them that firing Comey had "taken off" the "great pressure" he was feeling from the investigation, the Times reported.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that an unidentified senior Trump adviser was being considered a "person of interest" in the investigation. Separately, Comey agreed to testify at an upcoming, open hearing of the Senate intelligence committee, the panel said.


Read more on:    king salman  |  donald trump  |  saudi arabia  |  us

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