RIYADH – U.S. President Donald Trump, struggling to shake a brewing scandal at home, attempted a reset on Sunday with the Islamic world after frequently attacking Muslims on the campaign trail last year and trying to ban many from the United States.
Trump’s afternoon speech at an Arab Islamic American Summit (4:20 p.m. local/9:20 a.m. PH) included appeals for Muslims to unite against the threat of Islamist militants.
Trump started his day in individual meetings with Arab leaders.
He praised Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, telling him, “You have done a tremendous job under trying circumstances.” Trump promised to schedule a trip to Egypt soon.
Separately he told Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani they would discuss “lots of beautiful military equipment because nobody makes it like the United States.”
In a meeting with Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, Trump declared that the two nations had a lot in common and that despite previous tensions, “there won’t be strain with this administration.” The king lauded the relationship and said it had led to “great stability in the region and prosperity.”
SWORDS, BEATING DRUMS
Trump also has individual meetings scheduled with the leaders of Kuwait and Oman.
The president on Sunday also will convene the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council as part of his effort to counter Iran with a NATO-like Arab force.
Trump and the leaders will establish a center aimed at cracking down on the ability of Islamic militants to spread their message.
Trump’s Riyadh visit kicks off his first presidential trip abroad, with Saudi Arabia the first stop on a nine-day journey through the Middle East and Europe.
Trump drew the ire of Muslims during his presidential campaign by calling for a ban on them entering the United States. His attempt early in his presidency to ban people from seven Muslim-majority nations has been blocked by the courts.
COMEY PROBE FALLOUT
The speech came as Trump tried to evade the fallout from his May 9 firing of former FBI Director James Comey amid accusations he was trying to stop a federal investigation into his campaign’s ties with Russia last year.
The New York Times reported Trump called Comey a “nut job” in a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week. The Washington Post said the probe had reached into the White House to include a Trump adviser, who was not named.
Trump showed little sign of the pressure during a day of diplomacy on Saturday during which he was warmly welcomed by Saudi King Salman.
At a royal banquet on Saturday night, Trump walked into a colorful spectacle: Men in ceremonial dress and carrying swords chanted in unison to beating drums in a courtyard. Trump, clearly enjoying himself, smiled and swayed, even seeming to dance a little at the center of the group.