Riyadh, May 20, 2017 (GSN) - President Trump touched down in this Middle Eastern kingdom on Saturday morning as he sought to escape, if just briefly, the scandals and the chaos that have engulfed his administration back home.
Against a stark desert backdrop, Mr. Trump and his wife, Melania, emerged from Air Force One just before 10 Saturday morning. He was greeted on a long red carpet by King Salman, who was leaning on a cane, and other members of the Saudi monarchy.
Mrs. Trump stood near her husband with her hair uncovered, in the tradition of previous American first ladies. The country’s tradition is for Saudi women to cover their heads in public. (In 2015, Mr. Trump criticized Michelle Obama on Twitter for eschewing a head scarf during an official visit here. Hillary Clinton and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany also did not cover their hair during trips to the country.)
Flanked by Saudi military personnel standing at attention and alternating Saudi and American flags, Mr. Trump and the king exchanged a brief handshake and a few pleasantries as trumpets blared, cannons boomed and seven Saudi jets streaked through the sky, streaming red, white and blue smoke.
“Very happy to see you,” the king said.
“It’s a great honor,” Mr. Trump replied, before he was offered a bouquet of flowers from Saudi girls.
The two leaders posed for photos while seated in the Royal Hall at the airport’s terminal before getting into a motorcade to head to a series of meetings. Aides said Mr. Trump had spent most of the flight from Washington, which took 12 hours and 20 minutes, meeting with staff, reading newspapers and working on his speech. He got very little sleep, they said.
In Riyadh, Mr. Trump is viewed as a refreshing change from President Barack Obama, who was viewed with disdain in the wake of the Iranian nuclear deal that Mr. Obama brokered in 2015.
Last year, Mr. Obama visited Saudi Arabia for meetings with King Salman and Gulf leaders, but the king did not meet him on the airport’s tarmac. Mr. Obama’s aides later played down the incident, but it was broadly portrayed in news accounts as a snub.
Mr. Trump’s planned trip had been greeted with public enthusiasm that is rare for this usually restrained country. Huge billboards around the city featured Mr. Trump and King Salman, while the city’s roads were lined with alternating American and Saudi flags.
Other billboards touted the long friendship between the two countries, displaying the historic picture of King Abdulaziz Al Saud, the founding monarch of the modern Saudi state, with Franklin D. Roosevelt, when the two met on a boat in the Great Bitter Lake offshoot of the Suez Canal in Egypt in 1945.
For Mr. Trump, the warm embrace by the Saudi monarchy is a welcome break from the cascade of bad news in Washington. Even as Air Force One took off from a Maryland air base on Friday afternoon, headlines revealed new details about the swiftly expanding investigation into ties between Russia and Mr. Trump’s advisers.
Questions about those headlines are certain to follow Mr. Trump despite the distance from Washington. But it is unclear whether reporters traveling with the president will have an opportunity to press him on reports that he had referred to James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, as “a nut job” during meetings with Russians in the Oval Office last week.
Mr. Trump is scheduled to meet first with King Salman and other Saudi royals, but there are no news conferences planned during his visit here. Still, the president is set to hold seven photo sessions with Middle Eastern leaders on Saturday, each of which might give reporters an opportunity to ask him questions.
Despite the friendly history between the United States and Saudi Arabia, the over-the-top, pro-Trump euphoria here is remarkable for a country whose monarchs have sometimes clashed with Washington, and whose population has a history of deep distrust of Western influence.
During his two-day visit, Mr. Trump is expected to announce a $100 billion-plus arms deal with Saudi Arabia as evidence of a renewed commitment by the United States to the security of the Gulf region.
On Sunday, Mr. Trump plans to deliver a speech that White House aides say will be a call to the Muslim world to unite against extremism and terror. One senior White House official said the president hoped to “reset” the global fight against Islamic terrorism.
The official, who insisted on anonymity to discuss the president’s speech, said it was also designed to reset Mr. Trump’s image in relation to Muslims after a campaign in which he called for a ban on Muslim immigration and in his early days in the White House tried to put in place a travel ban on Muslims to the United States. (The New York Times)