RIYADH: 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 and was welcomed by King Salman and senior Saudi officials.
Stepping off Air Force One with his wife, Melania, Trump and his entourage received a red-carpet welcome.
Trump and King Salman spoke through an interpreter when they met, as a military brass band played, cannons boomed and seven Saudi jets flew over in V-formation, trailing red, white and blue smoke.
The two leaders sat side by side at the VIP section of the airport terminal and drank cups of Arabic coffee.
On the drive to the Ritz hotel where Trump is staying, King Salman rode with the president in the heavily armored presidential limousine nicknamed “the Beast.”
After a royal banquet, Trump and the king were to have private talks and participate in a signing ceremony for a number of US-Saudi agreements, including a deal worth a reported $100 billion for Saudi Arabia to buy American arms.
National oil giant Saudi Aramco is expected to sign $50 billion of deals with US companies on Saturday, part of a drive to diversify the Kingdom’s economy beyond oil exports, Aramco’s chief executive Amin Nasser said.
Trump is to deliver a speech on Sunday aimed at rallying Muslims in the fight against terrorism. His 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,” said John Duke Anthony, founding president and CEO of the National Council on US-Arab Relations.
“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 said.
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 wrote.
“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.”