TRUMP SEEKS TO BUILD TIES IN VISIT

US pres­i­dent warmly wel­comed in first stop of marathon tour

New Straits Times - - World -

RIYADH was brought to the steps of the plane on a golf cart. The two lead­ers ex­changed pleas­antries and Trump said it was “a great hon­our” to be there. Sev­eral jets then flew over­head, leav­ing a red, white and blue trail.

Hours later, Trump tweeted for the first time on in­ter­na­tional soil as pres­i­dent, writ­ing: “Great to be in Riyadh, Saudi Ara­bia. Look­ing for­ward to the af­ter­noon and evening ahead.”

White House of­fi­cials hope the trip gives Trump the op­por­tu­nity to re­cal­i­brate af­ter one of the most dif­fi­cult stretches of his young pres­i­dency.

De­spite his do­mes­tic troubles, Trump was ex­pected to get a warm re­cep­tion in Saudi Ara­bia.

The king­dom of­fered Trump an elab­o­rate wel­come. Bill­boards fea­tur­ing images of Trump and the king dot­ted the high­ways here, em­bla­zoned with the motto “To­gether we pre­vail”.

Trump’s lux­ury ho­tel was bathed in red, white and blue lights and, at times, an im­age of the pres­i­dent’s face.

Trump and the king met briefly in the airport ter­mi­nal for a cof­fee cer­e­mony be­fore the pres­i­dent headed to his ho­tel.

Me­la­nia Trump 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. In 2015, her hus­band had, in a tweet, crit­i­cised former first lady Michelle Obama for not wear­ing a head­scarf.

For a pres­i­dent who cam­paigned on an “Amer­ica First” plat­form, the trip is a cru­cial mo­ment for US al­lies to size up his com­mit­ment to decades-long part­ner­ships.

“Trump un­der­stands that Amer­ica First does not mean Amer­ica alone,” said Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser H.R. McMaster.

“Pri­ori­tis­ing Amer­i­can in­ter­ests means strength­en­ing al­liances and part­ner­ships that help us ex­tend our in­flu­ence and im­prove the se­cu­rity of the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

In a sweet­ener for Saudi Ara­bia, US of­fi­cials said the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion plans to an­nounce US$110 bil­lion (RM484 bil­lion) in mil­i­tary equip­ment sales to the king­dom. The pack­age in­cludes tanks, ships, mis­sile de­fence sys­tems, radar and cy­ber­se­cu­rity tech­nol­ogy.

Af­ter spend­ing much of yes­ter­day meet­ing with King Sal­man and the royal fam­ily, Trump ended the day at a ban­quet din­ner at the Murabba Palace.

To­day, he will hold meet­ings with more than 50 Arab and Mus­lim lead­ers con­verg­ing here for a re­gional sum­mit fo­cused largely on com­bat­ing the Is­lamic State and other ex­trem­ist groups.

Trump dodged one po­ten­tial land mine when Su­danese Pres­i­dent Omar al-Bashir, who has been in­dicted on war crime and geno­cide charges, an­nounced that he would not at­tend the sum­mit for per­sonal rea­sons.

The cen­ter­piece of Trump’s visit to Saudi Ara­bia will be a speech to­day 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 crit­i­cised as too apolo­getic for US ac­tions in the re­gion.

Trump will call for unity in the fight against rad­i­cal­ism, cast­ing the chal­lenge as a “bat­tle be­tween good and evil”, and urg­ing Arab lead­ers to “drive out the ter­ror­ists from your places of wor­ship”.

The speech no­tably re­frains from men­tion­ing democ­racy and hu­man rights — top­ics Arab lead­ers view as US moral­is­ing.

It also aban­dons anti-Mus­lim rhetoric and does not con­tain the words “rad­i­cal Is­lamic ter­ror”, a phrase Trump re­peat­edly crit­i­cised Hil­lary Clin­ton for not us­ing dur­ing last year’s cam­paign. AP

AGENCY PIX

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and First Lady Me­la­nia be­ing wel­comed on ar­rival in Riyadh yes­ter­day. With them is Saudi Ara­bia King Sal­man Ab­du­laziz al-Saud.

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