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Trump arrives in Saudi Arabia in first foreign trip
US president receives warm welcome by King Salman as he seeks to repair ties with Washington's closest Arab ally.

[Image: 44b8cac01e1846f393b2b6b49fa69c45_18.jpg]Trump will meet with more than 50 Arab and Muslim leaders on Sunday to discuss the battle against "terrorism" [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]
US President Donald Trump has arrived in Saudi Arabia on the first leg of his first foreign trip since taking office, in a crucial test abroad as political scandals mount at home. 

Trump aims to strengthen ties in Saudi Arabia visit

In a red-carpet airport welcome, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud greeted Trump, his wife Melania and his entourage shortly after they landed in the capital, Riyadh, around 06:50 GMT on Saturday.

Trump will hold a series of meetings with the king and other Arab and Muslim leaders on Saturday and Sunday, before jetting off to Israel, the occupied Palestinian Territories, the Vatican, Belgium and Italy in a nine-day tour across the Middle East and Europe.
During the two-day visit to the kingdom, Trump is expected to sign a major weapons deal, give a speech on Islam and discuss the battle against "terrorism" with more than 50 leaders.

It is the first time a US president has chosen Saudi Arabia as the first stop on a maiden trip.
Trump's visit is seen as highly symbolic, as he looks to repair Washington's ties with its closest Arab ally.
During the final years of Barack Obama's US presidency, "relations had undergone a period of difference of opinion", according to Saudi officials. These differences were largely centred around the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and the Obama administration's cautions to the kingdom about the civilian toll of the war in Yemen. 

Al Jazeera's Washington editor James Bays, reporting from Riyadh, said the Saudis were very "proud and excited" that the US president chose the Gulf country as his first stop. "They want a reset of the relationship with the US. They were not happy with Obama, and they were not happy with the US policy in Yemen and in Syria," Bays said. 
Ahmed Alibrahim, a Saudi political analyst, told Al Jazeera that the Saudis see this as a "great day" for relations with the US.
"We think President Trump's cabinet does understand the Saudi challenges and does understand the challenges the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] faces."
He added that the kingdom would like to see more "decisive statements, actions and sanctions on the Iranian regime".
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Trump was welcomed in Riyadh on Saturday by Saudi's King Salman 
Prior to the trip, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, said the visit will "bolster the strategic partnership between the two countries".
He added, that "several agreements will be signed, including political agreements ... and big economic agreements".
Marwan Kabalan, an analyst at the Doha Institute's Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, told Al Jazeera the US and Saudi Arabia will discuss a strategic plan aimed at countering "extremism" as an ideological battle.
"I think both sides have high expectations of this summit, as they are expected to discuss the most pressing issues for both of them like the conflict in Yemen, the war in Syria and the war on ISIL," Kabalan said, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant armed group, also known as ISIS.
"Trump is expected to address the entire Islamic world while trying to establish this sort of a strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia, particularly concerning groups like ISIL."
Arms deal
On Saturday, Trump is expected to announce an arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth more than $100bn, in what could be the biggest such agreement in history. 

Saudi Arabia and US to announce 'historic' arms deal

Speaking on condition of anonymity, US officials familiar with the package told The Associated Press news agency that the deal would include Abrams tanks, combat ships, missile defence systems, radar and communications and cyber security technology.
Much of the package builds on commitments made before Trump took office, although some elements are new, including weapons designed to help Saudi Arabia in an air campaign it has led in war-torn Yemen, officials said.
The Trump administration separately informed Congress on Friday that it will sell some $500m in precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia. These include laser-guided Paveway II bombs and JDAM kits for converting unguided bombs into "smart bombs".

'Historic summit'
Also on the agenda in Riyadh is a summit of more than 50 Arab and Muslim leaders, including those from the six nations that form the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), to discuss the fight against "extremism".
Announcing the meeting, the Saudi foreign ministry said the "historic summit" should be the start to "building a partnership between the Arab and Muslim worlds and the United States at various levels".

INTERACTIVE: A timeline of US-Saudi relations

Trump is expected to give a speech on Islam, calling for unity in the fight against "radicalism" and characterising the effort as a "battle between good and evil", the AP reported, citing a draft of his speech.
The US president will avoid tough anti-Muslim rhetoric from his presidential campaign, as well as mentions of democracy and human rights, according to the draft of the speech, which remains subject to revision, AP said.
According Al Jazeera's James Bays, the meeting will also include talks on Trump's promise to restart peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis.
"Everyone agrees that a fresh approach could be helpful in solving this long-running conflict and President Trump certainly brings that - but Arab leaders will want to hear more than optimism, they'll want to know the US president's plan to move forward," Bays said.

READ MORE: Five things to know about Donald Trump's first foreign trip

After the visit in Saudi Arabia, Trump will head to Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories where he will meet his "friend" Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem.
There are no plans for Trump to bring the two leaders together, a senior US official told the Reuters news agency, saying the administration does not believe it is the "right time just yet". 
Trump will then fly to the Vatican to meet Pope Francis, who has said he will give the US president an open-minded hearing, despite differences in belief on everything from climate change to policies towards refugees.
Trump will later meet members of NATO in Brussels and attend a G7 summit in Italy.

OPINION: The US' never-ending days of reckoning

The foreign trip comes as Trump faces growing criticism at home. 
As the US president jetted off to Saudi Arabia, reports by US media emerged that a senior adviser to Trump was a "person of interest" in a probe of possible collusion with Russia during last year's election campaign and that the US president had boasted to Russian officials after firing former FBI Director James Comey earlier this month. 
On Thursday, Trump also denounced the announcement of special counsel to conduct an independent investigation into the alleged Russia meddling in the election and possible collusion with Trump's team.

Riyadh will give a warm welcome to Trump this weekend, but it will judge him based on his actions, not his promises.
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Saudi Arabia had a prominent role in the national security doctrine of every US president, from Roosevelt to Obama, writes Altunhayyan ][Image: 8835d1bd599b44d5981ded87426190dc_6.jpg]

Hamad Althunayyan

Hamad Althunayyan is a PhD Researcher in Political Science at University of Maryland, College Park.

Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia, will be the first foreign destination Donald Trump visits as the President of the United States on May 20. This trip signals that the Trump administration acknowledges Riyadh as a crucial US strategic partner in maintaining regional stability and world economic security.  Trump's decision to visit Saudi Arabia should not come as a big surprise. 
Saudi Arabia had a prominent role in the national security doctrine of every US president, from Roosevelt to Obama. 

WATCH: Donald Trump set for first foreign trip as US president (2:14)

It all started in 1931, when the US officially recognised the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by extending full diplomatic recognition. The relations were bolstered when the US President Roosevelt met with the Saudi King Abdul-Aziz bin Saud on board the USS Quincy in the Suez Canal of Egypt in 1945.  The US-Saudi relations were cemented on one core doctrine, oil for security.  The Saudis guaranteed continued access to oil, and President Roosevelt declared that the "defense of Saudi Arabia was vital to the defense of the United States".

The US-Saudi relations, however, went through many ups and downs. Back in 2009, the Saudi leadership conveyed to John Brennan, President Barack Obama's advisor on counter terrorism that "President Bush [junior] didn't take his advice on dealing with issues in the region, and they found their problems compounded".  The Saudis perceived that US policy in Iraq after the 2003 war was emboldening Iranian influence in Baghdad. According to documents released by Wikileaks, the Saudi king even said in his meeting with Brennan that "thank God for bringing Obama to the Presidency [to restore US credibility in the region]".  Yet, the relations between the Kingdom and the US deteriorated even further under the Obama administration.

READ MORE:Is the Middle East Trump's new playground?

The Saudis were angry when Obama told Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, a long-time ally to Washington and Riyadh, that he needs to step-down during the 2011 Arab Spring protests. They were frustrated with Obama's inaction on the "Assad must go" policy in Syria. They were wary that the Iran nuclear deal is the beginning of an American pivot toward their regional rival, Iran. And Obama's statement that Saudi Arabia should "share the region" with Iran shredded the relations between the White House and Riyadh.  The Saudis felt that the US administration was abandoning its 70 years alliance with the Kingdom. 

A renewed partnership in the horizon
Now, with Trump's visit to Riyadh, the hope to restore US commitments is revived in the Saudi capital.  The Saudi King, Salman Bin Abdul-Aziz, saidthis historic summit will hopefully lead to a new partnership "in confronting extremism and terrorism, disseminating the values of tolerance and coexistence, and bolstering security, stability and cooperation to serve the present and future of our peoples".  

But the Saudis are expecting more concrete actions from the Trump administration. For the Trump administration, this visit is a chance for the president to roll-back on his anti-Islam campaign narrative and engage the Muslim world constructively to combat violent extremism in the region and beyond.
In Iraq, they want to see a more inclusive - and less-sectarian- government in Baghdad. In Syria, they support a political transition that will eventually lead to the departure of Bashar Al-Assad. In Yemen, they launched a military campaign to degrade the Iranian-backed Houthi rebel's capabilities, and to restore the internationally recognized Hadi-led government. The Saudis will be pushing for a US support on these three fronts to circumvent the Iranian influence in the region. If these objectives were to be met, it will provide the Saudi government with more leverage to engage Tehran diplomatically. 

For Riyadh, it is equally important that the US continues its support in strengthening the Saudi military capabilities. Also the US should be firm in dealing with Iran's destabilising activities in the region. This will reassure the Saudis and it will decrease the likelihood of a direct military confrontation with Iran. A war between the Saudis and Iranians will destabilise the region more, disrupt the oil markets, and possibly drag the US into a third major war in the region. Something the current US government would like to avoid. While Riyadh and Washington will not always - and should not expect to - have aligned policies in the region, I believe they do share similar strategic interests in many of the issues.

As for the Trump administration, this visit is a chance for the president to roll-back on his anti-Islam campaign narrative and engage the Muslim world constructively to combat violent extremism in the region and beyond.  Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) and Al-Qaeda brought more harm to Muslims than anyone else.  The US and Saudis as well as the other Muslim leaders have a shared goal in degrading and eliminating the threat of these groups.  On this trip, President Trump will join King Salman in inaugurating the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology in Riyadh. 

But the Trump administration is also expected to push for what White House officials call an "Arab NATO".  The actual plans in terms of the structural organisation, membership, and goals are yet to be announced.  However, it is clear that the US wants closer security coordination between key Arab states and more burden-sharing to maintain the security of the region. I expect the Saudis and many others to be supportive of this plan.  But the US is expected to play an active role in this "alliance" if it was to be achieved.  Also it should be clear that the intention of such alliance is to solely defend member states from external threats and to defeat terrorism.  This will encourage more regional members to join the security pact, and the alliance will more likely be successful overall.  

OPINION: Envisioning Donald Trump's Middle East
Another major aspect of Trump's visit is economic. During the GCC-US meetings, I think Trump will offer more military sales to the Gulf States.  It is already expected that Trump will announce a new US arms package for Saudi Arabia valued around $100bn in Riyadh.  I also suspect that Trump will ask the Gulf States to financially support his $1 trillion infrastructure plan. Reports speculate that the Saudis will commit $40bn to this plan. In addition, a US-Saudi economic program valued at more than $200bn is to be implemented over the next 4 years. The Trump administration will expect other rich Gulf States to chip-in as well. However, JASTA should be scrapped to assure investments from the Gulf.         

The Saudi government will extend a warm and heartfelt welcome to President Trump during his visit.  But he will be judged based on his actions, not promises.
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Bill Van Auken, May 22, 2017
Much in Trump’s half-hour address echoed the speech delivered by Barack Obama in Cairo eight years earlier. Both presidents declared their desire to reset US relations with the Middle East, while absurdly posturing as leaders of a pacifist nation seeking only good for the region and offering to head up a united struggle against “violent extremism.”

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Eric Zuesse, May 22, 2017
The U.S. government officially blames Iran for the 9/11 attacks and has fined Iran $10.5 billion for those attacks. The Sauds hate Iran and claim that Iran poses an “existential threat” to them. These new weapons will, the Sauds claim, “protect” them from Iran. Right after Trump won the 2016 election, he staffed the top level of his incoming Administration with people who consider Iran to be the main source of terrorism.

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South Front, May 22, 2017

US President Donald Trump has directly accused Iran in supporting terrorists and spreading instability in the Middle East during his speech at the Arab Islamic American Summit in Saudi Arabia.

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Tyler Durden, May 22, 2017

When all other sources of economic growth appear tapped out, there is always the military-industrial complex coming to the rescue of US GDP with the sale of arms and equipment to the world’s biggest purchaser of weapons: Saudi Arabia. Because when one looks beyond the pageantry, pomp and circumstance of Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, the main purpose behind the president’s visit is precisely that: selling weapons, some $350 billion over the next decade, according to estimates.

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Jan Oberg, May 22, 2017

Here is what the United Arab Emirates’ daily The National reported on January 24, 2017. Interestingly, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE are members of ICI – the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative – while Saudi Arabia and Oman plan to join. This is exactly the coalition we have mentioned above.

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