US President Donald Trump first trip in Saudi Arabia

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US President Donald Trump has landed in Saudi Arabia for a historic meeting tipped to “turn the page” on US-Arab affairs after a strained relationship under the previous American administration.

The president touched down in Riyadh aboard Air Force One and was welcomed by King Salman and senior Saudi officials.

The US president is expected to announce a $100bn arms deal with the kingdom and give a speech on Islam.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, US officials familiar with the package told The Associated Press news agency that the deal would include Abrams tanks, combat ships, missile defence systems, radar and communications and cyber security technology.

Much of the package builds on commitments made before Trump took office, although some elements are new, including weapons designed to help Saudi Arabia in an air campaign it has led in war-torn Yemen, officials said.

The Trump administration separately informed Congress on Friday that it will sell some $500m in precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia. These include laser-guided Paveway II bombs and JDAM kits for converting unguided bombs into “smart bombs”.

Trump’s first official foreign trip since taking office will coincide with three key summits on Saturday and Sunday, as well as several business activities, cultural, intellectual and sports celebrations.

The Saudi-US Summit on Saturday will feature a series of bilateral meetings between King Salman and Trump, and “focus on re-affirming the long-standing friendship, and strengthening the close political, economic, security and cultural bonds between the two nations.”

It will be followed Sunday by the GCC-US Summit, Arab Islamic American Summit, and the inauguration of the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology.

Experts told Arab News that the visit by Trump will boost US-Arab ties after the relationship soured under his predecessor President Barack Obama.

“By selecting Saudi Arabia as the first stop on his historic visit, the first official one to any foreign country, President Trump has been prudent to seize an opportunity to turn a new and more positive page toward Arabs and Muslims in the region and beyond,” John Duke Anthony, founding president and CEO of the National Council on US-Arab Relations, writes on page seven.

“The president’s visit has a chance to begin healing wounds that have been inflicted on Muslims the world over.” Anthony said that there has been a shift from Trump’s presidential campaign, when he was seen as being openly hostile toward the Muslim world and Kingdom.

“As a candidate for the Oval Office, Donald Trump was not shy about criticizing Saudi Arabia.

Contexts change, though, and as president, his administration has refrained from unjustified, unnecessary and provocative statements in this regard,” he writes.

Tensions rose between the Arabian Gulf and the US after the latter brokered the “nuclear deal” with Iran, which some Arab countries claim meddles in regional affairs and sponsors international terrorism.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, a veteran analyst, said that the new US administration has the opportunity to get tough on Tehran.

“Iran has taken the region hostage and has blackmailed Washington for many years,” he writes on page eight.

“I believe it is in the hands of the current US administration to get Iran to face a new reality, namely that it must stop the spread of chaos and violence in the region and wider world.”

‘Historic summit’

Also on the agenda in Riyadh is a summit of more than 50 Arab and Muslim leaders, including those from the six nations that form the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), to discuss the fight against “extremism”.

Announcing the meeting, the Saudi foreign ministry said the “historic summit” should be the start to “building a partnership between the Arab and Muslim worlds and the United States at various levels”.

Trump is expected to give a speech on Islam, calling for unity in the fight against “radicalism” and characterising the effort as a “battle between good and evil”, the AP reported, citing a draft of his speech.

The US president will avoid tough anti-Muslim rhetoric from his presidential campaign, as well as mentions of democracy and human rights, according to the draft of the speech, which remains subject to revision, AP said.

The meeting will also include talks on Trump’s promise to restart peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis.

“Everyone agrees that a fresh approach could be helpful in solving this long-running conflict and President Trump certainly brings that – but Arab leaders will want to hear more than optimism, they’ll want to know the US president’s plan to move forward,” Bays said.

After the visit in Saudi Arabia, Trump will head to Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories where he will meet his “friend” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem.

There are no plans for Trump to bring the two leaders together, a senior US official told the Reuters news agency, saying the administration does not believe it is the “right time just yet”.

Trump will then fly to the Vatican to meet Pope Francis, who has said he will give the US president an open-minded hearing, despite differences in belief on everything from climate change to policies towards refugees.

Trump will later meet members of NATO in Brussels and attend a G7 summit in Italy.

The foreign trip comes as Trump faces growing criticism at home.

As the US president jetted off to Saudi Arabia, reports by US media emerged that a senior adviser to Trump was a “person of interest” in a probe of possible collusion with Russia during last year’s election campaign and that the US president had boasted to Russian officials after firing former FBI Director James Comey earlier this month.

On Thursday, Trump also denounced the announcement of special counsel to conduct an independent investigation into the alleged Russia meddling in the election and possible collusion with Trump’s team.

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