May 27, 2017

First foreign trip to gauge Trump's insights on security

19 May 2017, 07:08 | Melvin Schneider

But however powerful the images of Trump's globe-trotting turn out to be, they have little chance of eclipsing the scandals convulsing his White House back home. Partnership agreements in energy and technology will likely be signed.

As President Trump embarks on his first overseas trip, he's embracing the same defiant strategy adopted over a generation ago by an embattled predecessor, Richard Nixon.

The aim is to "show respect" for the Pope, with whom Mr Trump clashed during the election campaign over the need to build bridges not walls.

From Saudi Arabia, Trump will move on to Israel, where he will have meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and meet Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas in the West Bank.

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He reckons the best the Trump administration can hope for is that the trip passes without incident.

"Actually a lot of his mistakes are self-imposed, reacting badly to things, and feeding the story rather than tamping it down, so if his attention is diverted from the domestic stage, it could actually buy him a bit of respite rather than following him around the world", Elliott said. Many presidents have tried to use statesmanship overseas to distract from problems at home, but the Trump brand of diplomacy has some analysts anxious that the nine-day tour of allies in the Mideast and Europe might only make his troubles worse.

But for Riyadh, analysts say, a primary goal is to showcase its leadership of the Muslim world, especially in the face of regional rival Iran.

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Among the invitees is al-Bashir of Sudan, although it remains unclear whether he will attend or, if he does, whether he will meet Trump. But they believe the seriousness of the issues Trump will confront can help realign the President.

In Trump, however, many Saudis see a decisive, business-focused leader, who they say shares their goals in the region. "He's already a president viewed skeptically by much of the world".

Trump's delivery of a speech on Islam before dozens of Muslim leaders gathered in the Saudi capital could prove a far more delicate exercise, however, given the tensions sparked by his travel ban targeting several Muslim-majority nations - now stuck in the USA courts.

In Saudi Arabia, President Trump is scheduled to give a speech to the leaders of some 50 Muslim-majority countries. national security advisor H.R. McMaster said Trump will call on the Muslim leaders to "promote a peaceful vision of Islam".

"There has never been a president taking his first worldwide trip being dogged by scandal like this", said Larry Sabato, head of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

With Saudi Arabia locked in a seemingly endless war in Yemen, they're going to continue to throw money at more costly United States munitions and weaponry in hopes of winning what they thought would be a simple war, and all indications are that the current administration will be just as eager as the last one to sign off on them.

Trump, who heads to Israel after he leaves Riyadh on Monday, could claim a significant diplomatic victory if he can nudge the two countries to make mutual gestures toward ultimately normalizing relations.

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