The Cable

Trump’s First Foreign Trip: To Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Vatican

Not the traditional first foray for a new president.

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President Donald Trump will make the first foreign trip of his presidency this month, and it’s a real doozy. Trump will head to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and then Rome, then attend back-to-back summits for NATO in Brussels and for the G-7 in Sicily.

The trip is meant to show “’America First’ is fully compatible with American leadership in the world,” a senior administration official told reporters Thursday. The official added the trip demonstrates Trump is “willing to and has embraced his leadership role in multinational forums when they serve the interests of the American people.”

In Saudi Arabia, Trump will convene with political and religious leaders from across the Muslim world to sort out how to fight terrorism. “Saudi Arabia is the custodian of the two holiest sites in Islam, and it is there that we will begin to construct a new foundation of cooperation and support with our Muslim allies to combat extremism, terrorism and violence, and to embrace a more just and hopeful future for young Muslims in their countries,” Trump said Thursday, announcing his trip during a ceremony signing an executive order on religious freedom.

Trump’s team appeared to pick Saudi Arabia as a first stop in a bid to counter widespread claims the president is Islamophobic, after he spent the campaign promising a Muslim ban and then twice tried to implement a version of the ban, though courts blocked both efforts. “We thought this was an important place to start,” the official said.

In Israel, Trump will roll up his sleeves and dive into the spadework of brokering an Israel-Palestine peace deal, a task the former reality television host described Wednesday as “not as difficult as people have thought,” yet which has eluded every modern president. On Thursday, the senior administration official said Trump and team were approaching their Middle East peace plans “with a lot of humility.”

After his trip to Israel, Trump will hop on over to Rome and Vatican City to meet Pope Francis, rounding out what in the end will resemble a tour of the Abrahamic religions. Trump and the Pope will have some fences to mend: During the campaign, Trump sharply criticized Francis after the leader of the Catholic Church noted that building walls is not a Christian virtue, calling the pope’s comments “disgraceful.”

Following those stops, Trump will jet onto a highly-anticipated NATO summit in Brussels on May 25, where he is expected to hound allies on boosting their defense spending, and a G-7 summit in Sicily on May 26 to talk shop on economics, foreign policy, and trade.

Trump’s first foreign foray comes relatively late in the game, and he’ll depart from a tradition every president since Ronald Reagan honored: Making Canada his first or second foreign stop.

In his first 100 days, former President Barack Obama had visited nine foreign countries. Trump did not visit one.

When asked how Trump was preparing for the trip, the official said, “He’s been preparing his whole life for a lot of these things.”

Photo credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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