President Trump's First Foreign Trip Will Include Red-Carpet Welcome In Saudi Arabia : Parallels Given the president's campaign rhetoric, Saudi Arabia seems an odd choice for his first foreign visit. But the kingdom plans a warm welcome and has invited leaders from many other Muslim countries.
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President Trump's First Foreign Trip Will Include Red-Carpet Welcome In Saudi Arabia

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President Trump's First Foreign Trip Will Include Red-Carpet Welcome In Saudi Arabia

President Trump's First Foreign Trip Will Include Red-Carpet Welcome In Saudi Arabia

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In his first foreign trip as president, Donald Trump will travel on Friday to a Muslim country that has one of the holiest shrines in Islam. As a candidate, Trump loved to bash Saudi Arabia, but President Trump could find there's a lot he might like about the kingdom. NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre has the story.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Here's Donald Trump on the campaign trail.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Until the oil went down, Saudi Arabia was making a billion dollars a day, right? We protect them. We protect them. And we protect them for peanuts. So all of that stuff is going to change, folks.

MYRE: This is how he's promoting his trip to the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

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TRUMP: It is there that we will begin to construct a new foundation of cooperation and support where there are Muslim allies to combat extremism, terrorism and violence.

MYRE: Trump and the Saudis both have compelling reasons to make this relationship work. The president wants to show he can get along with Muslim countries. His frequent attacks have earned him critics across the Islamic world. Yet he can expect a warm welcome in the kingdom and perhaps a brief reprieve from his political troubles at home. The Saudis, meanwhile, felt they were downgraded under President Obama, who reached out to their main rival, Iran. The Saudis see a golden opportunity to rebuild ties with their most important ally.

GREGORY GAUSE: The Saudis are rolling out the red carpet for President Trump.

MYRE: That's Gregory Gause, a Saudi analyst and a professor at Texas A&M. He notes that the Saudis have also invited dozens of leaders from other Islamic countries, giving the president a chance to reset relations.

GAUSE: They are certainly not deterred by some of the anti-Muslim rhetoric that we heard on the campaign trail. They want this to be I think an occasion to move the president away from some of those thoughts not by criticism but by kind of embracing him.

MYRE: Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman agree on many fundamental issues. Both see Iran as the main cause of trouble in the Middle East. Both support an aggressive war against the Islamic State and al-Qaida. They may even raise a few uncomfortable truths with one another. Here's Gause again.

GAUSE: I think that the Saudis can have a hard talk with the administration about the need to avoid gratuitously insulting and alienating the Muslim world.

MYRE: The Saudi ambassador to the United Nations, Abdullah al-Mouallimi, puts it this way.

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ABDULLAH AL-MOUALLIMI: The areas of agreement are far greater than any potential areas of disagreement.

MYRE: To top it off, the Saudis appear on the verge of a massive spending spree in the U.S. Analysts expect deals in the tens of billions of dollars. This is in addition to a nearly a hundred billion dollars of U.S. military hardware that the Saudis have already agreed to buy.

Ford Fraker is a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. He helped arrange two presidential visits to the kingdom by George W. Bush. He says it's hard to overstate the importance of chemistry or the lack of it between a U.S. president and a Saudi king.

FORD FRAKER: It's a terrific opportunity to forge personal relationships with senior members of the royal family which, in many ways, is almost more important than trying to deal with specific policy issues.

MYRE: He says Obama never got on track after a rocky start with the Saudis.

FRAKER: By all reports, that first visit was not as warm and as friendly as it might have been, and it tended to set the tone for the rest of the administration.

MYRE: No matter how well Trump and King Salman hit it off, they can't fix everything in a weekend. The Saudis with American backing are waging a war in Yemen that isn't going well. Trump and the monarch may also blame Iran for regional problems, but they don't have a clear plan to counter that. Still, Trump should be able to count on a new experience as president - a friendly welcome in a Muslim land. Greg Myre, NPR News, Washington.

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