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27 May 2017 23:54
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  •   Home > News > International

    Donald Trump's first overseas trip as US President takes him further away from home than most

    While most sitting US presidents choose to stay close to home when first travelling abroad, Donald Trump has opted for a tour of the Middle East, followed by a trip to Europe.

    If you'd never considered Donald Trump the potential bridge between the world's religions, think again.

    In a break with tradition, the President will head to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican and then Belgium and Italy for NATO and G7 meetings on his first trip abroad.

    Presidents usually stay close to home, heading to Mexico or Canada for their first trip away, so this is yet another case of the 45th doing something out of the box.

    His aim, his national security adviser General HR McMaster says, is "to broadcast a message of unity to America's friends and to the faithful of the followers of three of the world's greatest religions".

    At a briefing, he said it would be the first time a sitting US president has visited the birthplaces and holy sites of the world's three major religions — Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

    The President, it's said, has been central to the planning of the trip where he will deliver what a White House official described as "an inspiring, direct speech on the need to confront radical ideology and the President's hopes for a peaceful vision of Islam".

    In Riyadh, he'll have lunch with leaders of more than 50 Muslim countries and participate in the inauguration of a new centre to fight radicalism.

    He will then meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem. He'll say a prayer at the Western Wall.

    At the Vatican, he will meet with Pope Francis.

    It goes without saying that it's a fraught agenda for any leader, but especially one with Mr Trump's signature bluntness on the issue of radical Islamic terrorism and penchant for going off script.

    Questions have already been raised about the US refusal to allow Prime Minister Netanyahu to accompany Mr Trump to the Western Wall.

    Allegations that may also come up.

    Trump 'on same page as leaders in Islamic world'

    Son-in-law and general peace-making jack of all trades Jared Kushner will be a prominent presence in keeping the trip (and his father-in-law) on track. He's apparently been coordinating much of the planning.

    Saudi Arabia is said to have been chosen as the first stop because it's the birthplace of Islam and the custodian of the two Holy Mosques.

    In terms of optics, an official has told the press that "obviously, people have tried to portray the President in a certain way, but I think that what he wants to do is solve the same problem that a lot of the leaders in the Islamic world want to do".

    This is said against the backdrop of the President's proposed travel bans against people from several Muslim-majority countries, which are currently still mired in the courts.

    After his tour of religious sites, the President will head to the NATO meeting in Brussels and the G7 in Sicily.

    This is an important statement as well, given that last year the President threatened to pull out of NATO altogether.

    More recently, when meeting the NATO chief in DC, he said he'd changed his mind.

    As General McMaster put it: "President Trump understands that America first does not mean America alone. To the contrary, prioritising America's interests means strengthening alliances."

    The President, however, does expect America's allies to pay their way on defence and will once again make that clear.

    This will be the first opportunity for Mr Trump the showman to strut his stuff on the world stage, and to directly reassure a range of allies in an international forum that he has the temperament to be president.

    Known for his liking for familiar spaces, he's said to be reluctant to take the trip, telling aides that the schedule is too long.

    But leaving the US for a week might be just what's needed to turn the news wheel again, and to allow an embattled White House a reprieve after the latest round of controversy.

    Those around him will be hoping he doesn't create a new one while he's away.


    © 2017 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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