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Trump touts 'historic significance' of first foreign trip
President Trump on Friday said his first international trip since taking office has "historic significance" for the U.S., departing amid swirling controversy at home over the probe into Russia's interference in the election.
"This weekend I begin my first trip overseas as president - a trip with historic significance for the American people," Trump said during his weekly White House address released Friday.
"In that spirit of unity, I will travel to lands associated with three of the world's great religions," Trump said, explaining his decision to visit Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican.
"America cannot solve all of the world's problems, but we can - and we must - help any nation willing to join in the common cause of eradicating terrorism from the face of the earth," he said.
The president maintained that he seeks to "renew our friendship" with Israel and said that he will meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem to address a possible peace agreement in the region.
During his trip, the president is also slated to visit U.S. allies in Europe as NATO countries gather at the G-7 summit in Italy, where leaders from the Group of Seven industrialized countries will gather.
"Finally, I will close my trip by saying thank you to some of the courageous men and women of the United State Military serving their nation overseas," Trump said.
Trump departed for his nine-day trip Friday afternoon as a pair of news stories broke regarding his firing last week of FBI Director James Comey and the federal investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The New York Times reported that Trump called Comey a "nut job" during a meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office last week, with Trump reportedly adding that firing the FBI chief relieved "great pressure" from the Russia probe.
The White House did not deny that the conversation took place but went after Comey's "grandstanding" on a probe into Russia's meddling in the 2016 elections.
The Washington Post also reported Friday afternoon that the federal Russia probe had extended to a current White House official deemed a "significant person of interest." The report only identified the official as a senior adviser who is close to Trump.