Trump to visit Israel, Saudi Arabia, Vatican in first foreign trip

Trump to visit Israel, Saudi Arabia, Vatican in first foreign trip
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President Trump announced Thursday he will visit Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican during his first foreign trip as president later this month.

Trump and his aides said the decision to visit the centers of three of the world’s major faiths is meant to rally allies and partners in the fight against shared security threats in the Middle East.

Those stops will come before previously scheduled appearances at a NATO summit in Brussels on May 25 and a meeting of the Group of Seven major industrialized countries in Sicily on May 26-27.

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The president said he will begin his trip in Saudi Arabia, where he will convene a “historic gathering” of “leaders from all across the Muslim world” to form a new push to combat terrorism and Islamic radicalism and confront Iran.

“We will begin to construct a new foundation of cooperation and support with our Muslim allies to combat extremism, and terrorism and violence and to embrace a more just and hopeful future for Muslims in their countries,” he said at the White House.

The stakes are always high for presidents during their first trips abroad, but Trump will face added pressure as a leader who has never before held elected office.

Trump faces the challenge of bolstering partnerships that he questioned during the 2016 campaign. 

The president recently backed off his criticism that the NATO alliance is “obsolete,” comments that rattled traditional U.S. allies. 

Some Arab allies were put off by Trump’s ban on travelers from several predominantly Muslim countries, which was blocked by the courts, as well as his inflammatory comments about Islam. 

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Trump will get an audience in Rome with Pope Francis, who has offered veiled criticism of the president's stances on immigration and refugees.

Now, Trump is seeking their cooperation to accomplish his agenda overseas. 

Speaking to reporters to preview the trip, a senior administration official said Trump is seeking to demonstrate that “that America first is fully compatible with American leadership in the world.”

“What this trip will also do is it will reverse what had been a trend of America’s disengagement from the world and some of its biggest problems," the official added, saying that that stance "has aided and abetted those who were really fomenting violence and perpetuating human suffering across the Middle East."

Another official said it was symbolically important for Trump to begin his trip in Saudi Arabia because “people have tried to portray the president in a certain way.”

“I think what he wants to do is solve the same problem that leaders in the Islamic world want to do,” he said. 

The gathering in Saudi Arabia will also include leaders of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, as well as other nations. 

Trump’s visit to Israel is a chance to show progress on his pledge to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The president's trip follows separate meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at the White House.

Details of the visit, however, remain up in the air. Officials would not say whether Trump would visit Palestinian territories or reveal the exact dates of his stops.

Trump has been slow to start his foreign travel, which is typically a major fixture of presidents’ first years in office. Thus far, the president has left such trips to Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceTrump campaign adviser sparks criticism for misgendering Pennsylvania official On The Trail: Pence's knives come out Pence: Chief Justice Roberts 'has been a disappointment to conservatives' MORE and top Cabinet officials. 

By this point in his presidency, Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaPandemic preparedness and response under a different president Wall Street Journal: Trump stretched law with executive orders, like Obama Trump's contempt for advice and consent MORE had traveled to eight foreign countries. Former President George W. Bush traveled to two. 

Unlike Obama and Bush, Canada and Mexico will not be among the first group of countries Trump visits. The president has clashed with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto over trade and immigration. 

Peña Nieto cancelled a planned visit to Washington in January amid tensions over Trump's demand that his government pay for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Trudeau visited the White House in February. 

This story was updated at 1:16 p.m.