RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, May 20, (Agencies): President Donald Trump, in the first stop of his maiden trip abroad, received a regal welcome Saturday in Saudi Arabia, 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.
Trump basked in the pageantry that began with an elaborate airport welcome ceremony punctuated by a military flyover and a handshake from Saudi King Salman.
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. And he largely kept a distance from reporters who were unable to ask about the tumult at home. “That was a tremendous day. Tremendous investments in the United States,” Trump said after a late day meeting with the Saudi crown prince, his only utterances to the press by late in the day.
“Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs.” 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 honor” 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.
At a later ceremony at the grand Saudi Royal Court, the king placed the Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud, the nation’s highest civilian honor, 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 defense cooperation deal with the Saudis, pledging $110 billion effective immediately and up to $350 billion over 10 years, as well as some private sector agreements. The military package includes tanks, combat ships, missile defense systems, radar and communications, and cybersecurity 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. Saudi’s ruling family grew deeply frustrated with Obama’s detente with Iran and his restrained approach on Syria. The king did not greet Obama at the airport as he did Saturday with Trump.
Billboards featuring images of Trump and the king and emblazoned with the motto “Together we prevail,” dotted Riyadh’s highways, and Trump’s hotel was bathed in red, white and blue lights and, at times, an image of the president’s face. The First Lady and Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, both eschewed a headscarf. Trump had criticized former-lady Michelle Obama for not wearing a headscarf during a 2015 visit to the kingdom.
Ivanka’s presence dominated Arabic Twitter traffic, with the phrase “bint Trump” — Arabic for daughter of Trump — trending. On Sunday, he’ll deliver a speech on Islam and hold meetings with more than 50 Arab and Muslim leaders, who are converging on Riyadh for a regional summit focused largely on combating the Islamic State and other extremist groups. White House aides view the address as a counter to Obama’s 2009 speech to the Muslim world, which Trump criticized as too apologetic for US actions in the region.
Trump will call for unity in the fight against radicalism in the Muslim world, casting the challenge as a “battle between good and evil” and urging Arab leaders to “drive out the terrorists from your places of worship,” according to a draft of the speech obtained by The Associated Press. The draft also notably did not contain the words “radical Islamic terror,” a phrase Trump repeatedly criticized Hillary Clinton for not using during last year’s campaign.
Trump will use this visit to the Middle East to call for unity in the fight against radicalism in the Muslim world, casting the challenge as a “battle between good and evil” and urging Arab Euleaders to “drive out the terrorists from your places of worship,” according to a draft of the speech obtained by The Associated Press. Abandoning some of the harsh anti-Muslim rhetoric of his presidential campaign, the draft of the speech, slated to be delivered in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, envisions new partnerships with America’s traditional allies in the Middle East. It notably refrains from mentioning democracy and human rights — topics Arab leaders often view as US moralizing — in favor of the more limited goals of peace and stability.
“We are not here to lecture — to tell other peoples how to live, what to do or who to be. We are here instead to offer partnership in building a better future for us all,” the document said. Two different sources provided the AP with copies of the draft of his remarks, billed as a marquee speech of the trip. One version, obtained late Thursday, included edits with comments from an administration official, indicating it was still a work in progress. The White House confirmed the draft was authentic, but cautioned the president had not yet signed off on the final product.
“The president has not seen this draft,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said. “This is one of five drafts that have been written by various people. He continues to take input and is writing a final version.” The draft of the speech includes no mention of “radical Islamic terrorism” — a phrase that candidate Trump regularly criticized opponent Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama for shying away from. His speech calls terrorism a widespread problem plaguing everyone who loves peace. He positions himself as an “emissary for the American people, to deliver a message of friendship and hope,” according to the draft.
“This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects or different civilizations. This is a battle between those who seek to obliterate human life and those who seek to protect it,” the text reads. “This is a battle between good and evil.” Saudi officials said they aimed to prepare new, streamlined rules covering direct investment by foreign firms within 12 months. Among the deals signed on Saturday, GE said it reached $15 billion of agreements involving almost $7 billion of goods and services from GE itself.
They ranged from the power and healthcare sectors to the oil and gas industry and mining. Jacobs Engineering will form a joint venture with Aramco to manage business projects in the kingdom, and McDermott International will transfer some of its ship fabrication facilities from Dubai to a new shipbuilding complex which Aramco will build within Saudi Arabia. Riyadh, one of the world’s biggest military spenders, is keen to develop a domestic arms industry rather than importing weapons, so several deals were in military industries.