President Trump Basks in Lavish Saudi Welcome

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) -
President Donald Trump walks with Saudi King Salman during a welcome ceremony at the Royal Terminal of King Khalid International Airport, May 20, in Riyadh. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump basked in Saudi Arabia’s lavish royal welcome Saturday as he left behind, at least temporarily, the snowballing controversies dogging him in Washington. President Trump rewarded his hosts with a $110 billion arms package aimed at bolstering Saudi security and a slew of business agreements.

“That was a tremendous day, tremendous investments in the United States,” President Trump said during a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.

The visit to the kingdom’s capital kicked off President Trump’s first foreign trip as president, an ambitious, five-stop swing that will take him through the Middle East and into Europe. He is the only American president to make Saudi Arabia — or any Muslim-majority nation — his first overseas trip.

President Trump arrived in Riyadh besieged by the fallout from his firing of FBI Director James Comey and more revelations about the federal investigations into his election campaign’s possible ties to Russia. Escaping Washington for the embrace of the Saudi royal family appeared to give President Trump a boost.

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 last year to welcome former President Barack Obama on his final visit to Saudi Arabia.

As President Trump and the 81-year-old king, who was aided by a cane, walked along the red carpet, military jets swept the sky, leaving a red, white and blue trail. During a ceremony at the grand Saudi Royal Court, Salman awarded President Trump the Collar of Abdulaziz al Saud, the kingdom’s highest civilian honor.

Saudi Arabia has previously bestowed the honor on Russian President Vladimir Putin, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Obama.

President Trump’s warm welcome reflected the degree to which Saudi Arabia had become disillusioned with Obama. The Saudis deeply distrusted Obama’s overtures to Iran and were frustrated by his restrained approach to the Syrian civil war.

As President Trump arrived, Iranians had just re-elected Hassan Rouhani — one of Obama’s partners in the landmark accord aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions — for a second four-year term as president, validating his push for greater freedoms and outreach to the wider world. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he hoped Rouhani would use his new term “to begin a process of dismantling Iran’s network of terrorism.”

President Trump made no substantial remarks on his first day abroad and spent most of his time shuttling between opulent palace ballrooms with the king. The two were overheard discussing natural resources and arms, and Salman bemoaned the destruction caused by Syria’s civil war.

The most tangible agreement between the two leaders was the $110 billion sale of military equipment to Saudi Arabia that is effective immediately and could expand up to $350 billion over 10 years. The deal includes tanks, combat ships, missile defense systems, radar and communications, and cybersecurity technology. The State Department said the agreement could support “tens of thousands of new jobs in the United States.”

President Trump was joined on the trip by the CEOs of several major U.S. companies, which announced their own agreements with the Saudis. Among them was a $15 billion arrangement with GE focused on power, oil and gas, and health care.

The president was trailed on the trip by a large number of advisers, including Tillerson, chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon.

On Sunday, President Trump and the king were to join more than 50 regional leaders for meetings focused on combating the Islamic State terror group and other extremists. The president was to give the signature speech of his trip, an address that aides view as counter to Obama’s 2009 speech in Egypt to the Muslim world. President Trump has criticized Obama’s remarks as too apologetic for U.S. actions in the region.

President Trump planned to urge unity in the fight against radicalism in the Muslim world, casting the challenge as a “battle between good and evil” and appealing to Arab leaders to “drive out the terrorists from your places of worship,” according to a draft of the speech obtained by The Associated Press.

After two days of meetings in Saudi Arabia, President Trump was scheduled to travel to Israel, meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican, attend a NATO summit in Brussels and join the world’s major industrial nations at a Group of Seven gathering in Sicily.