Saudi Arabia will be the first country President Donald Trump visits since his inauguration, the White House announced Thursday.
The president will then visit Israel and the Vatican before attending previously announced summits in Belgium and Italy, the White House said.
Senior administration officials, briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity, said Saudi Arabia was picked as the first country to counter a narrative that Trump doesn’t get along with Saudi officials. Trump had told the Reuters news service last week that Saudi Arabia was not treating the United States fairly and Washington was losing a “tremendous amount of money” defending the kingdom.
Administration officials provided few details about the dates for the visits or which cities Trump would visit other than to say the stops will occur before the president attends a NATO meeting in Brussels on May 25 and the Group of Seven summit of leading industrial nations in Taormina on the island of Sicily on May 26-27.
It is there that we will begin to construct a new foundation of cooperation and support with our Muslim allies.
President Donald Trump
Trump hailed the planned visits as important to building a coalition of partners who share the goals of fighting terrorism and bringing safety and stability to the Middle East.
“Saudi Arabia is the custodian of the two holiest sites in Islam,” the president said. “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.”
The Vatican confirmed that the Trump will meet Pope Francis on May 24, setting up a potentially uncomfortable meeting between the leaders. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Francis was critical of Trump’s plans to build a wall along the border with Mexico.
A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the Gospel.
“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the Gospel,” the pope said after a visit to Mexico.
A senior administration officials said Trump had been “very involved” with the trip’s planning and thought that working toward peace in the Middle East was “one of the things that he has to try to do.”
“I think what the president has demonstrated already and will be able to demonstrate further on this trip is that ‘America first’ is fully compatible with American leadership in the world,” one official said. “What this trip will also do is reverse what had been a trend, I think, of America’s disengagement from the world and some of its biggest problems.”