RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — President Trump got the royal treatment in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, receiving a lavish welcome that he hopes can erase two weeks of bad headlines, refocus his presidency and unite allies against terrorism.
Day one of his nine-day foreign trip — his first as president — saw the signing of arms sales agreements and discussions on trade, terrorism, Iran and the wars in Syria and Yemen.
In a blitz of pre-negotiated dealmaking, Trump and the Saudi king signed eight different agreements approving almost $110 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The kingdom also approved 23 foreign investment export licenses with U.S. companies, bringing the total amount of investments to $350 billion over 10 years.
The arms deals included a Jane's catalog of military equipment, the State Department said: Tanks, artillery, counter-mortar radars, armored personnel carriers, helicopters, ships, patrol boats, aircraft and missile defenses. ("Just what the Middle East needs — $110 billion more in weapons," Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., retorted in the Huffington Post.)
But the first day of Trump's five-stop overseas trip was dominated by a series of highly choreographed ceremonies, beginning with an elaborate red-carpet arrival and ending with a traditional sword dance at the historic Murabba Palace.
The Saudi king, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, greeted the presidential plane in the 101-degree heat as a brass band played, cannons boomed and seven Saudi jets flew overhead trailing red, white and blue smoke.
It was a notable contrast from President Obama's last visit to the kingdom, when King Salman delegated the task of greeting the president to a distant nephew, a provincial governor, amid tensions between the two countries over the Iran nuclear deal.
At an elaborate ceremony at the Saudi Royal Court, Trump bowed to receive the King Abdul Aziz Collar, a medal considered to the kingdom's highest honor — something Trump criticized Obama for years ago.
White House aides appeared to be in good spirits, with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner giving National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster a high-five between meetings. After dinner, Trump participated in dancing diplomacy, joining the Arabian ardah with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.
Trump called the day "tremendous" and said it would result in "hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs."
But the journey comes as Trump faces mounting questions about his firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating his campaign's links to the Russian government. Trump avoided questions about the affair all day, and White House press secretary Sean Spicer did not brief reporters.
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told reporters aboard Air Force One that Trump got very little sleep during the 12-hour, 20-minute overnight flight from Washington, passing the time by reading newspapers and talking to staff.
While Air Force One was in the air, news organizations reported a string of damaging revelations: The New York Times reported Trump told Russian diplomats that Comey was a "nut job," and that his firing would ease the pressure on the Russia investigation. The Washington Post reported a high-ranking White House aide was a "person of interest" in the probe. Later, CNN reported Russian officials boasted of their influence with former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and White House lawyers were preparing for impeachment "just in case."
Trump used the flight to work on his much-heralded speech to Muslim leaders Sunday, Spicer said. The White House considers the speech a centerpiece of the visit and an opportunity to rally Arab allies in the battle against the Islamic State.
According to a draft obtained by the Associated Press, Trump will abandon some of the harsher anti-Muslim rhetoric of the political campaign, describing the war against terrorism as a "battle between good and evil" but "not a battle between different faiths, different sects or different civilizations."
Deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the draft was just one of five different versions of the speech being written by various aides, and that the president hadn't decided on a final version.
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