WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump left for Saudi Arabia on Friday on the first leg of a trip that has been billed by the administration as a chance to visit places sacred to three of the world’s major religions while giving Trump time to meet with Arab, Israeli and European leaders.
The also includes stops in Israel, Italy and Belgium next week.
“Getting ready for my big foreign trip. Will be strongly protecting American interests — that’s what I like to do!” Trump said on Twitter hours before he left on his first foreign trip since taking office in January.
Trump, who has embraced what he describes as an “America First” approach to US foreign policy and international trade, is expected to be welcomed warmly by leaders in Saudi Arabia and Israel.
The White House has laid out three purposes for Trump’s trip: reaffirming US leadership, building relationships with world leaders and broadcasting a message of unity to US allies and to the faithful of three of the world’s major religions.
Trump generated controversy as a presidential candidate with a call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States, which he called a national security plan to prevent Islamist militant attacks. A measure he has issued since taking office to impose a temporary travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority countries has been blocked by courts.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters on Thursday that Trump would deliver a speech in Saudi Arabia expressing hope that a peaceful vision of Islam would resonate worldwide.
Although he kept a grueling schedule as a presidential candidate, Trump is fond of being home at night. During the election campaign, he often flew back to New York after events to sleep in his own bed. The nine-day trip will be his longest since he became president.
(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, John Walcott and Susan Heavey)