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Under Fire At Home, Trump Wins A Warm Welcome In Saudi Arabia

RIYADH, May 20 (Reuters) – Dogged by controversy at home, Donald Trump opened his first presidential foreign trip in Saudi Arabia on Saturday and won a warm reception as he looked to shift attention from a political firestorm over his firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz greeted him on a red carpet as he stepped off Air Force One, shaking the hand of his wife, Melania, and riding in the U.S. presidential limousine.

It was a warmer welcome than had been granted last year to Trump?s predecessor, Barack Obama, who was seen in the Arab kingdom as soft on Iran and hesitant on Syria.

Trump?s trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Italy, the Vatican and Belgium has been billed by the White House as a chance to visit places sacred to three of the world?s major religions, while giving Trump time to meet with Arab, Israeli and European leaders.

But the uproar in Washington cast a long shadow over the trip. The president?s firing of Comey and the appointment of a special counsel to investigate his campaign?s ties to Russia last year have triggered a stream of bad headlines.

The New York Times reported Trump had called Comey a ?nut job? in a private meeting last week in the Oval Office with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak.

The White House did not deny the report, but said ?the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations.?

In another development, the Washington Post said a current White House official close to Trump was a significant ?person of interest? in the investigation into possible ties between Trump?s presidential campaign last year and Russia.

Trump and King Salman seemed at ease with each other, chatting through an interpreter. At the royal al-Yamama palace, the king decorated Trump with the King Abdulaziz medal, the country?s top civilian honor.

The king was overheard lamenting the Syrian war to Trump, who ordered air strikes against a Syrian airfield in April in response to a chemical weapons attack by government forces against civilians.

?Syria too used to be one of the most advanced countries. We used to get our professors from Syria. They served our kingdom. Unfortunately, they too brought destruction to their own country. You can destroy a country in mere seconds, but it takes a lot of effort,? he said.

Trump?s response could not be heard.

The two leaders exchanged tweets, Trump saying it was great to be in Riyadh. King Salman said Trump?s visit would strengthen strategic cooperation.

Trump?s decision to make his first official trip abroad to Saudi Arabia, followed by Israel, countries which both share his antagonism towards Iran, marks a contrast with Obama?s approach.

Trump?s criticism of the nuclear deal Iran reached with the U.S. and five other world powers in 2015 pleases both Saudi Arabia and Israel, who accused Obama on ?going soft? on Tehran.

Poll results showed on Saturday that Iranians had emphatically re-elected President Hassan Rouhani, architect of Iran?s still-fragile detente with the West.


After a royal banquet, Trump and the king were to have private talks and participate in a signing ceremony for a number of U.S.-Saudi agreements, including a $100 billion deal for Saudi Arabia to buy American arms.

U.S. technology and engineering conglomerate GE said on Saturday it had signed $15 billion of business deals with Saudi Arabia as part of the kingdom?s drive to diversify its economy beyond oil.

The Kingdom was also due to sign a deal that includes a pledge to assemble 150 Lockheed Martin Blackhawk helicopters in Saudi Arabia, an official statement about the deal said, in a $6 billion deal expected to result in about 450 jobs in the kingdom.

National oil giant Saudi Aramco was also expected to sign $50 billion of deals with U.S. companies on Saturday, part of a drive to diversify the kingdom?s economy beyond oil exports, Aramco?s chief executive Amin Nasser said.

Trump is to deliver a speech in Riyadh on Sunday aimed at rallying Muslims in the fight against Islamist militants. He will also attend a summit of Gulf leaders of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council.

Ahead of Trump?s trip, the White House said the president expected tangible results from Saudi Arabia in countering Islamic extremism.

Shortly after taking office, Trump sought to block people from several Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States, but the travel ban has been blocked by federal courts.

The 70-year-old president?s trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Italy and Belgium will be Trump?s longest time away from the White House since he took office four months ago.

Even his hand gestures may draw scrutiny in the Middle East, where the thumbs-up sign, a Trump trademark, is considered taboo.

The uproar over Comey?s firing looked unlikely to go away.

Trump, who has expressed a desire for friendlier relations with Moscow, drew a storm of criticism this week when it emerged that he had shared sensitive national security information with Russia?s foreign minister during a meeting last week in the White House.

The president was already under attack for firing Comey in the midst of an FBI probe into Russia?s role in the 2016 election and possible collusion with Trump campaign members.

Moscow has denied any such interference. Trump has denied collusion and denounced the appointment of a special counsel as a ?witch hunt.?


(Editing by Sami Aboudi and Andrew Roche)


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Moment President Trump is greeted by Saudi King Salman

The President disembarked Air Force One with his wife Melania, who wore a jumpsuit and no headscarf.


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Lawmakers Seek Trump’s Intervention For 17-Year-Old American Jailed In Egypt

WASHINGTON ? A bipartisan trio of lawmakers from New Jersey wrote to Donald Trump on Friday urging him to raise the case of a 17-year-old American in an Egyptian prison during his trip abroad.

In their letter, Democratic Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez and Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo note that Trump will meet with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Saudi Arabia on Sunday. They also mention that Sissi and Trump recently spoke on the phone and that Trump received an invitation to Egypt during the call.

?We request that you raise [the] case with President Sissi at the summit and in any other subsequent discussions and work to secure his release,? the lawmakers wrote in a message provided exclusively to HuffPost.

Ahmed Hassan of Pomona, N.J., will turn 18 on Thursday. He has been held in crowded facilities with adult prisoners since Egyptian authorities detained him in December when he tried to prevent their arrest of his uncle, who was accused of a building code violation.

A HuffPost investigation last week found that Trump appears to have done little so far to push the Egyptian government on Hassan?s case or those of other Americans jailed there. A May 2 State Department response to a previous letter from Booker, Menendez and LoBiondo did not address the question of whether Trump or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had ever personally raised the issue with Sissi. In April, Trump did so for another jailed American, aid worker Aya Hijazi, and then celebrated his role in helping bring her home.

?Ahmed was beaten by police officers and thrown in a dark, crowded prison cell with adult prisoners. Additionally he was denied access to a lawyer until the day of his trial,? the lawmakers wrote. ?Sentencing a minor to a one-year sentence appears to be far out of proportion to what he has been accused. According to family members, Ahmed has described his experience in prison as ?scary? and says that he has been ?mistreated? because he is an American.?

According to public acknowledgments from their families, three U.S. citizens are being held by Egypt?s repressive government, which has jailed thousands of people in recent years. The lawmakers? letter notes that reports suggest that the number is as high as 20. Human rights activist Mohamed Soltan, a former prisoner himself, believes the figure has dropped to nine, he told HuffPost.

Trump has publicly embraced Sissi, a former military officer who gained power after a 2014 coup against Egypt?s first democratically elected president. Trump sees the Egyptian leader as an effective partner in the fight against Islamist terrorism; his aides have said they wish to talk about human rights issues only sparingly and, when necessary, to do so quietly. But experts say the partnership can survive U.S. criticism of Egyptian government excesses.

?We recognize the important of the United States-Egypt partnership and the vital role our two countries play in fighting extremism, preventing illicit smuggling, and enhancing regional stability,? the lawmakers wrote in the Friday letter. ?However, our assistance is not mutually exclusive to the demand for human rights and the rights of our citizens.?

Read the full letter below: 

– This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.


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