Under fire at home, Trump in Saudi on first foreign trip
Dogged by controversy at home, Donald Trump opened his first foreign trip as president in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, looking to shift attention from a political firestorm over his firing of former FBI Director James Comey.
With delicate diplomatic meetings facing him, including three summits, Trump faces the challenge of advancing his “America First” agenda without alienating key allies.
Stepping off Air Force One in sweltering heat with his wife, Melania, Trump and his entourage received a red-carpet welcome from Saudi King Salman.
The trip has been billed by the White House as a chance to visit places sacred to three of the world’s major religions while giving Trump time to meet with Arab, Israeli and European leaders.
But uproar in Washington threatened to cast a long shadow over the trip. His firing of Comey and the appointment of a special counsel to investigate his campaign’s ties to Russia last year have triggered a stream of bad headlines.
The New York Times reported Trump had called Comey a “nut job” in a private meeting last week in the Oval Office with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak.
The White House did not deny the report, but said “the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations.”
In another development, the Washington Post said a current White House official close to Trump was a significant “person of interest” in the investigation into possible ties between Trump’s presidential campaign last year and Russia.
Trump and King Salman seemed at ease with each other, chatting through an interpreter. Walking with a cane, the king greeted Trump on the tarmac. 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 in the VIP section of the airport terminal and drank coffee served in the traditional Arab style.