In Saudi visit, Trump seeks to build bridges with Arabs, Muslims

Sunday 21/05/2017
Fighting extremism. US President Donald Trump (2nd-R) and First Lady Melania Trump (C) and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) arriving at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh. (AFP)

London- US President Donald Trump kicked off his first international trip since taking office with a visit to Saudi Arabia, the opening leg of an ambitious Middle East tour.

Trump’s discussions in the region were to focus on fighting terror­ism, thwarting Iranian ambitions and searching for Palestinian-Israeli peace.

On Trump’s agenda, an Arab-Is­lamic-US summit attended by more than 50 Arab and Muslim countries for the pupose of developing a unit­ed international front against terror­ism. Both sides hope the gathering will establish bridges between the United States and Muslim world.

“Great to be in Riyadh, Saudi Ara­bia,” Trump wrote on his official Twitter account upon arrival in the Saudi capital.

“Mr President, your visit will strengthen our strategic coopera­tion, lead to global security and sta­bility,” Saudi King Salman bin Ab­dulaziz Al Saud wrote on his.

Bilateral meetings between Trump and King Salman and high-ranking Saudi officials began May 20. The meetings were said by the Riyadh side as having focused on “strengthening the close political, economic, security and cultural bonds between the two countries.”

Saudi leaders spared no effort to display a warm welcome. King Salman presented Trump with the Order of King Abdulaziz, the king­dom’s top civilian honour, during a ceremony at the Royal Court attend­ed by Saudi and US officials, includ­ing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sal­man bin Abdulaziz, as well as first lady Melania Trump and US Secre­tary of State Rex Tillerson.

Trump was also to attend the in­auguration of the Global Centre for Combating Extremist Ideology (GC­CEI), launched by Riyadh as part of a new initiative aimed at countering and preventing the spread of ex­tremist ideologies.

Embroiled in a series of scandals at home, Trump could use a politi­cal victory abroad. The US president has set an ambitious agenda for his first foreign trip, with a goal to lay the groundwork for a new security structure in the Middle East and to bring Israelis and Palestinians clos­er together.

The summit in Saudi Arabia comes amid efforts from Wash­ington and Riyadh to improve and solidify relations, strained during eight years of US President Barack Obama’s administration.

During that time, Saudi Arabia and its fellow Gulf Arab neighbours viewed Obama’s lack of engage­ment in the region, coupled with the nuclear deal signed with arch-rival Iran, as a stab in the back, feeling that the deal compromised regional security and empowered the Islamic Repub­lic to continue its destabilising ac­tivities.

“We believe that a reduced US presence in the world, and in the region, results in the vacuum being filled by the forces of evil,” said Sau­di Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.

“The legacy of this summit is a pivotal moment in opening a new dialogue between east and west, promoting tolerance and isolat­ing those who claim that there is animosity between Islam and the world.”