17 May, 2017
Donald Trump's first foreign trip as U.S. president will not be in neighboring Canada or Mexico like all other American presidents since Ronald Reagan.
Trump will go first to Saudi Arabia, where he will be welcomed by King Salman. The Saudi leader is organizing a greeting committee of as many as 20 other heads of state representing a large percentage of the world's 1.5 billion Sunni Muslims.
Robert Satloff is head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He thinks the trip will show how Trump's policies on the Middle East are different from those of former president Barack Obama.
"The most useful way to look at President Trump's strategy is to see him as the anti-Obama," Satloff says.
Satloff also says "Obama made a purposeful effort to talk directly to the people. His first trip to the Middle East included speeches not to national assemblies and parliaments but to universities where he could talk over the heads of the leaders. He wanted to create a new balance in the Arab world, characterized by speaking to people rather than leaders. Trump wants to undo all that."
Trump's aides believe his visit to Riyadh is a chance for him to improve relations with Muslims. During the 2016 election campaign, Trump made critical comments about Muslims. And he began his presidency with an announcement of a temporary ban on Muslim refugees and visas for people from several Muslim-majority countries.
Human rights groups are not surprised that Trump has chosen to meet with the Saudi king.
"It's certainly a consistent choice, given the parade of dictators who've been welcomed at the White House," said Andrea Presow of Human Rights Watch.
This week, Trump meets at the White House with several autocratic Muslim leaders, including Egypt's Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.
Richard LeBaron of the Atlantic Council was the U.S. ambassador to Kuwait. He says "expectations are low. The travel ban didn't come as a shock to Muslims. They had built it into their expectations about Trump."
National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters that the president would tell Sunni leaders to fight radical Islam. Trump has called it "an ideology that uses a perverted interpretation of religion to justify crimes against all humanity."
McMaster said the president "will encourage our Arab and Muslim partners to take bold, new steps to promote peace and to confront those, from ISIS to al Qaida to Iran to the Assad regime, who perpetuate (the) chaos and violence that has inflicted so much suffering throughout the Muslim world and beyond."
That message is likely to be welcomed by Sunni Muslim leaders. They worried about Obama's attempts to improve relations with Iran, a country they blame for much of the trouble in the Middle East.
Ali Shihabi is a Saudi Arabian citizen and the head of the Arabia Institute, a Washington-based research organization. He said Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia "sends a message that he understands that America's Muslim allies are the first line of defense in the fight against terrorism."
Trump to visit other cities
Trump begins his nine-day overseas trip on Friday. Besides Riyadh, the trip will include stops in Jerusalem, the Vatican, Brussels and Sicily.
McMaster called this a "historic trip." He said, "No president has ever visited the homelands and holy sites of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths all on one trip."
Trump's trip, however, has been overshadowed by continuing questions on Trump's sharing of intelligence on ISIS with Russian visitors and his recent firing of FBI Director James Comey.
VOA White House Correspondent Peter Heinlein reported this story. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted his report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
strategy – n. a careful plan or method for achieving a particular goal usually over a long period of time
characterized by – expression to be a typical feature or quality of (someone or something)
autocrat – n. a person who rules with total power
ideology – n. the set of ideas and beliefs of a group or political party
pervert – v. to change (something good) so that it is no longer what it was or should be
interpretation – n. the act or result of explaining or interpreting something; the way something is explained or understood
perpetuate – v. to cause (something that should be stopped, such as a mistaken idea or a bad situation) to continue
inflict – v. to cause someone to experience or be affected by (something unpleasant or harmful)