Trump Toast of Town in Saudi Arabia as Talks Turn to Politics


U.S. President Donald Trump was feted again on Sunday, the second day of his trip to Saudi Arabia, as he began a series of meetings with Arab leaders that will focus on combating terrorism and containing Iran’s influence in the region.

Sitting next to President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh, Trump praised the Egyptian leader for what he said were successful efforts to fight terrorism under “trying circumstances.”

Donald Trump and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Riyadh on May 21.

Photographer: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

“You have a unique personality that is capable of doing the impossible,” El-Sisi said.

“I agree,” the U.S. president replied.

The first day of Trump’s debut foreign visit saw major U.S. companies land multi-billion dollar contracts in the defense, energy and infrastructure industries. Trump also held talks with the rulers of Qatar, Bahrain on Sunday, before a scheduled meeting with the heads of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council and other Muslim leaders.

The early morning talks were a glimpse of what may come. He promised the king of Bahrain that ties will improve under his administration. “There won’t be strain with this relationship,” Trump said.

Later, sitting next to Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Trump said the two will discuss “the purchase of lots of beautiful military equipment, because nobody makes it like the United States.”

Amid the fanfare, the president’s troubles back home deepened. Former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey agreed to testify in open session about a probe into suspected Russian meddling with the 2016 U.S. election. The Justice Department appointed Robert Mueller, the former director of the FBI, as special counsel to lead the probe into the issue and whether anyone close to Trump colluded in the effort.

Trump is scheduled to deliver a major speech Sunday afternoon to dozens of Muslim leaders urging a unified front against extremism and portraying the fight as being about good versus evil rather than the West versus Islam, according to an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity to preview the remarks.

While Trump is generally expected to take a less confrontational tone toward Islam for this audience than he did with American voters, White House officials didn’t release early excerpts of his prepared remarks.

The summit on Sunday will also focus on how to stem what is viewed by Arab Gulf states as Iran’s rising political sway in the region. Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, in a joint news conference with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Saturday, played down the suggestion that the reelection of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani would help improve ties.

“We want to see deeds, not words,” al-Jubeir said.

Iran’s support for militant groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon is “not the behavior of a country that wants others to treat it with respect,” al-Jubeir said. “This is the behavior of a state sponsor of terrorism.”

Trump’s visit to the kingdom, a close U.S. ally and the world’s biggest oil exporter, is the first stop in an eight-day trip that will take him to Israel, the Vatican and Europe.

The streets of Riyadh have been festooned with U.S. and Saudi Arabian flags, while Trump’s face was projected onto the Ritz-Carlton hotel. Giant billboards carried some of Trump’s tweets: “Great to be in Riyadh,” one of them read.

The first day of his tour culminated in U.S. executives signing several agreements with Saudi institutions. General Electric Co. secured $15 billion in deals. Lockheed Martin Corp., with Chief Executive Officer Marillyn Hewson on hand, committed to the assembly of 150 S-70 Black Hawk helicopters in Saudi Arabia. And Saudi Arabian Oil Co. Chief Executive Officer Amin Nasser said Aramco would enter into deals with the U.S. valued at about $50 billion.

Altogether, the package would support “tens of thousands of new jobs in the U.S. defense industry,” the White House said in a statement. Boosting manufacturing employment is a major policy goal of the Trump administration.

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