President Donald Trump arrives on Air Force One on his first stop abroad since taking office, a visit meant to bolster partnerships abroad that aides hope can reset a scandal-pocked narrative back home.
Trump’s stop in the Saudi capital is the first in an eight-day, five-country swing across the Middle East and Europe.
Air Force One touched down at the King Khalid airport in Riyadh at 2: 45 a.m. ET (9: 45 a.m. local time) , where Trump was greeted on the tarmac by King Salman and other high-level Saudi officials. Later Saturday the King will host Trump at the Royal Court.
Trump got very little sleep on his 14- hour flight from Washington, chief of staff Reince Priebus told reporters aboard Air Force One.
Trump is embarking upon his first international trip at a moment of deep uncertainty for his young presidency. This week, the Justice Department named a special counsel to investigate Russian meddling in last year’s election, including potential ties between Trump associates and Russian officials.
Trump has fueled the Russia controversy by firing the man who was originally leading the Russia probe, FBI Director James Comey, in an apparent bid to stop the investigation. He’s also accused of revealing high classified intelligence to Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting last week.
White House aides had hoped Trump’s ambitious foreign swing would provide relief from a barrage of bad headlines. But it’s increasingly clear that the swirl of controversy will shadow Trump during his stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel, Rome, Brussels, and Sicily.
That hasn’t dampened expectations for Trump’s arrival in the Arab Gulf, however.
In Riyadh, Saudis were preparing to welcome Trump in grand fashion. A five story image of Trump’s face was projected on the exterior of the hotel he’ll stay in when he arrives, and large billboards of Trump and King Salman lined the highway from the airport.
Trump remains popular in the Gulf, where leaders hope he’ll take a harder line on Iran than his predecessor Barack Obama. During meetings this weekend, Trump will work to develop relationships with the leaders, with whom the US hopes to partner on fighting extremism.
Trump will deliver a major speech Sunday to the leaders of more than two dozen Muslim nations where he’ll urge countries to drive out extremists. An early draft of his speech does not contain the phrase “radical Islamic terror, ” a term which Trump has emphasized back home.
Trump’s spokesman Sean Spicer said the President edited the speech with his aides during the fourteen-hour journey from Washington.