President Trump on Saturday began his first overseas trip as president with a stop in Saudi Arabia, calling the visit a “tremendous day” and pledging to work with leader King Salman to bring peace to the Gulf region and forge stronger economic ties, in large part through a roughly $10 billion arms deal.
“That was a tremendous day,” Trump said shortly after signing the arm deal. “Tremendous investments in the United States. Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs.”
The arms deal is part of large, $350 billion economic package between the ally nations.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump were greeted in Saudi Arabia at the airport by 81-year King Salman, in a red carpet ceremony that also included a military flyover in which several jets left red, white and blue streamers.
Trump called his visit to Saudi Arabia “a great honor” and joined the king in a brief coffee ceremony at the airport terminal before heading to his hotel and other official events of the day.
After signing the deal and talking with top Saudi leaders, Trump and the first lady are scheduled to participate in a royal banquet dinner and a museum tour at the Murabba Palace in Riyadh.
Trump is also scheduled to make a major speech Sunday in which he’s expected to show support for America’s Persian Gulf allies, a likely reset after months of talk about Muslim extremism.
The president’s next stop in his nine-day tour will be Israel, where he will have an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican, then meet with allies at a NATO summit in Brussels and the Group of 7 wealthy nations in Sicily.
“Great to be in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,” Trump tweeted upon landing in Saudi Arabia aboard Air Force One. “Looking forward to the afternoon and evening ahead.”
The first lady wore a black pantsuit with a golden belt and did not cover her head for the arrival, consistent with custom for foreign dignitaries visiting Saudi Arabia.
Trump shook hands with the king, compared to then-President Barack Obama in 2009 appearing to bow before then-King Abdullah, a move some viewed as a sign of American weakness.
Trump, during his winning presidential campaign and in the first several months of his presidency, has argued that the United States can no longer be the world’s police officer and that other nations must become more self-sufficient in efforts to combat such terror networks as al Qaeda and the Islamic State and in protecting themselves against rogue nations like Iran and North Korea.
After two days of meetings in Riyadh, Trump will travel to Israel where he’ll have an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican, then meet with allies at a NATO summit in Brussels and the Group of 7 wealthy nations in Sicily.
The multi-billion dollar arms deal “in the clearest terms possible” shows the United States’ commitment to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf partners and expands economic opportunities, the White House said.
The deal will include tanks, combat ships, missile defense systems, radar and communications and cybersecurity technology. And it will support tens-of-thousands of new jobs in the U.S. defense industrial base, the White House said.
Trump did not address the cameras. But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Saudi Foreign Minister Abdel al Jubeir held a joint press conference.
Jubeir said Trump “certainly has the vision and, we believe, strength to bring about Middle East peace.”
He also called Trump’s trip a “truly historic visit.”
Said Tillerson: “We’re very proud of this relationship we’re embarking on.”
He also took a question about a recent news report about somebody within the White House being a person of interest amid ongoing investigations into whether Trump and his associates colluded with Russia to help Trump win the 2016 presidential race.
Tillerson said he had “no knowledge” about such a person of interest.
White House officials hope the trip gives Trump the opportunity to recalibrate after one of the most difficult stretches of his young presidency. The White House badly bungled the president’s stunning firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was overseeing the federal government’s investigation into possible Russia collusion.
Trump on Sunday will also hold meetings with more than 50 Arab and Muslim leaders converging on Riyadh for a regional summit focused largely on combating the Islamic State and other extremist groups.
Still, the centerpiece of Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia will likely be the speech Sunday at the Arab-Islamic-American summit.
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 U.S. 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 notably refrains from mentioning democracy and human rights — topics Arab leaders often view as U.S. moralizing — in favor of the more limited goals of peace and stability.
It 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.