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Trump, dogged by questions at home, makes first trip abroad

  • President Donald Trump accompanied by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, left, calls on a member of the media during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, May 18, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Andrew Harnik



Associated Press
Thursday, May 18, 2017

President Donald Trump’s maiden international trip, a five-stop marathon across the Middle East and Europe, has long loomed as crucial first test abroad for the chaos-courting president.

That was before he fired his FBI director – and the chain reaction of scandal that followed.

Now, with the eyes of the world upon him, the president will embark on his big trip carrying the baggage of dire troubles at home. As he tries to calm allies worried about his “America First” message, he’ll be followed by fallout from his firing of FBI Director James Comey and the appointment of a special counsel to probe the president’s campaign ties with Russia.

“There has never been a president taking his first international trip being dogged by scandal like this,” said Larry Sabato, head of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “He’s already a president viewed skeptically by much of the world. And while the pictures from the trip may be great, the White House can’t change the headlines that will follow him wherever he goes.”

Each stop comes with high stakes.

In Saudi Arabia, the president – whose campaign was marked by heated anti-Muslim rhetoric and whose administration has tried to enact a travel ban from several Muslim-majority countries – will deliver a speech to the Islamic world meant to be a clear contrast with the vision Obama laid out in his first trip to the region.

In Israel, Trump will meet with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, looking to smooth over fresh tensions. Israel was in an uproar earlier this week after U.S. officials confirmed Trump shared highly classified intelligence about the Islamic State group with senior Russian officials visiting the White House.

In Rome, the president will call upon Pope Francis, the popular, liberal-minded pontiff. Trump denounced Francis during the campaign, calling the holiest man in the Catholic faith “disgraceful” for questioning his faith.

In Brussels, Trump will attend a meeting of NATO, the World War II-era alliance which Trump has repeatedly mused about abandoning because member states weren’t paying their fair share. He recently has shifted to reassure wary allies that he remains committed to the pact.

And in Sicily, the president will meet with the other leaders of the G7, a gathering of Western economic powers. Key parts of the group are unsettled by Trump’s unpredictability and his willingness to cheer on nationalist sentiment.

Trump’s itinerary is heavy with religious symbolism. He’ll visit the birthplace of Islam, the Jewish homeland and the Vatican. Officials say the message is “unity.”

Trump’s trip was always going to be dramatic. U.S. allies have been rattled by his warnings about pulling back from the world. He is tasked with urging a united front against terror by appealing to some of the same corners of the Muslim world he has tried to keep out of the United States with his travel ban.