Asia

19 May 2017
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Trump visits Saudi Arabia

Donald Trump will start his first official trip as US president, when he visits the capital of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh. It was known that he will also attend a NATO meeting in Brussels and a G7 summit in Taormina in Sicily. It seems that there have been change of plans by US diplomats, adding Riyadh, Israel and Vatican City to the destinations that Trump will be visiting.

Speaking in White House on Thursday, the US president said that in his first trip abroad, he will try to encompass a sweep of some of the most pressing foreign policy issues. Concerning his visit to Riyadh, he said that he won’t tell people there how to live their lives, but he would try to shape a new foundation of co-operation with Muslim allies.

Saudi officials believe that Trump’s visit to their capital city is a good opportunity to repair the strained ties, after 8 years of disputes with the Obama administration. They think that Trump’s visit on Saturday will reconfirm the Kingdom’s status as a regional force. Another benefit from the visit, is expected to be Trump signing on to one of the biggest weapon deals in history. The package deal includes ships, missiles, radars, but not high-end items such as the F-35 fighter jet. The total cost of the deal will exceed $100bn.

Since he took office, Trump has stopped criticising the Saudis, and has stressed his support for the continuing Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, despite humanitarian concerns. The intervention has left the country in ruins, without the Saudis achieving their target of beating the Shia Houthis.

Trump got himself engulfed in intrigue regarding the succession of the Saudi throne. In March, Trump held an Oval Office meeting with Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who is one of the two candidate successors. Members of the royal court who support the other candidate, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Nayef, didn’t seem to like the fact that Trump interferes in the power struggle for the succession of the aging king Salman.

In the past, Trump has said that Saudi Arabia blew up the World Trade Center in New York. He has accused the Saudis, and other Persian Gulf states of supporting terrorism and before being elected president in March of last year, he stressed that “Islam hates us.” Political analysts are wondering if Donald Trump, in his speech in Riyadh, will make a reference to “radical Islamic terrorism,” like he has done in the past. The use of such rhetoric has been avoided by George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and would infuriate the Saudi officials. National Security adviser H.R. McMaster, said that Trump’s speech will be “respectful”, hinting that the president will speak about “radical Islamic ideology.”

Iran is going to be an important part of the discussions that will take place in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Gulf countries, accuse the Shia Iranians of trying to control the Islamic world. Trump has repeatedly said that he doesn’t like the deal between the ex-US president Barack Obama and the Iranian government, that gradually lifted sanctions instead of stopping the country’s nuclear program.

Trump is expected to reaffirm the alliance between the US and the Gulf states. During Obama’s presidency, the alliance suffered from mistrust, because of violations of human rights and the involvement of Sunni countries in regional conflicts such as the civil war in Syria and the intervention in Yemen. The whole of the Middle East expects to see how Trump is going to behave and what he can achieve by visiting the strongest country in the region.