Friday 22 September 2017

Red carpet for Trump in Saudi

Stark contrasts to Obama visit as aging king greets Trump at airport, with anti-Iran alliances on the table, says Julie Pace

US President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud plus translators in Riyadh yesterday. Photo: Getty Images
US President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud plus translators in Riyadh yesterday. Photo: Getty Images

Julie Pace

Donald Trump is today expected to use the biggest speech of his first overseas presidential visit to try to rally the Muslim world to join America in a "battle between good and evil" against Islamist extremism.

According to leaked early drafts, the new US president's keenly awaited address in Saudi Arabia will urge Arab leaders to "drive out the terrorists from your places of worship".

His keynote speech has reportedly been written by his aide Stephen Miller, architect of the controversial immigration ban.

Early versions suggest he will avoid mentioning human rights or democracy, saying he is "not here to lecture", but to "offer partnership in building a better future for us all".

The president is expected to say: "This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects or different civilisations. This is a battle between those who seek to obliterate human life and those who seek to protect it. This is a battle between good and evil."

Mr Trump will use the symbolism of his visit to the kingdom to try to persuade the Islamic world he is not against it - despite an election campaign in which he disparaged Muslims and proposed banning them from America.

The White House also hopes the royal pageantry of the Saudi visit will detract from the continuing storm at home over Mr Trump's election campaign's contacts with the Kremlin.

Trump yesterday arrived in Riyadh after an overnight flight and was welcomed by an elaborate airport ceremony punctuated by a military flyover and a handshake from Saudi King Salman.

Trump is the only American president to make Saudi Arabia, or any majority Muslim country, his first stop overseas - a choice designed in part to show respect to the region after more than a year of Trump's harsh anti-Muslim campaign rhetoric.

The visit kicks off an ambitious international debut for Trump. After two days of meetings in Saudi Arabia, Trump will travel to Israel, have an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican, and meet allies at a Nato summit in Brussels and the Group of Seven powerful nations in Sicily.

Trump waved from the doorway after Air Force One touched down then descended the staircase with First Lady Melania.

King Salman (81), who used a cane for support, was brought to the steps of the plane in a golf cart. The leaders exchanged pleasantries and Trump said it was "a great honour" to be in the kingdom.

Several jets then flew overhead leaving a red, white and blue trail.

Soon after, Trump tweeted for the first time on international soil as president. "Great to be in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Looking forward to the afternoon and evening ahead," he wrote.

At a later ceremony at the Saudi Royal Court, the king placed the Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud, their highest civilian honour, around Trump's neck. The medal, given to Trump "for his efforts to strengthen ties in the region", has also been given to Russia's Vladimir Putin, Britain's Theresa May and Trump's predecessor Barack Obama. The king and Trump were overheard discussing natural resources and arms, and the king bemoaned the destruction caused by Syria's civil war.

Despite his domestic troubles, Trump was warmly received in Saudi Arabia in contrast to his predecessor. Saudi's ruling family grew deeply frustrated with Obama's detente with Iran and his restrained approach on Syria. The king did not greet Obama at the airport when he visited last year.

Billboards featuring images of Trump and the king emblazoned with the motto "Together we prevail" dotted Riyadh's highways, while Trump's hotel was bathed in red, white and blue lights and, at times, an image of the president's face.

Trump arrived as Iran's President Hassan Rouhani won re-election by a wide margin, giving the moderate cleric another four-year term to continue pushing for greater freedoms and outreach to the wider world.

Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies - all Sunni muslims - are looking for a renewed tough line on main regional rival, Iran, after complaining Obama was too conciliatory.

For a president who campaigned on an "America first" platform, the trip is crucial for US allies to size up Trump's commitment to decades-long partnerships in the region.

In a sweetener for Saudi Arabia, US officials announced a military sales deal of about €98bn effective immediately, plus another €312bn over the next 10 years. The package includes tanks, ships, missile defence systems, radar and communications, and cybersecurity technology.

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

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

©Reuters

Sunday Independent

Editors Choice

Also in World News