“Given the president’s rhetoric so far, talks could turn out to be quite contentious.”
Besieged by chaos at home, President Donald Trump appears to be set for an overseas blitz at the end of the week. While Trump has said from the get-go that he plans to travel abroad less than his predecessors, as the leader of the free world, the president is still expected to make his international presence felt. The first trip will mark a quick blitz across the Middle East and Europe. Given the president’s rhetoric so far, talks could turn out to be quite contentious.
Saudi Arabia Marks First Stop; Expect Iran to Be Hot Topic
The president has already ruffled many feathers by promising to reexamine American trade deals, military alliances, and other key global political issues. In recent days, the administration oversaw a $100 billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia and discussed the Syrian civil war with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
Saudi Arabia will mark the first stop of Trump’s four-legged trip. Simply the choice of visiting Saudi Arabia first marks a significant break with the past. Traditionally, the president will visit either the Americas or a close European ally. With ISIS clearly in the president’s sights, expect the Middle East stop to focus on security issues.
Despite his strong campaign rhetoric, Trump has so far been relatively quiet in regards to Iran. Saudi Arabia and Iran are both locked in a fierce battle for influence across the Middle East, with the ongoing wars in Yemen, Syria, and Iraq largely playing out along the Sunni-Shia divide.
Saudi Arabia has been backing Sunni insurgents and has even been accused of supporting the Sunni Islamic State. Iran has been backing the Bashar Al-Assad regime, which has been accused of various human rights violations. Iran is also wielding increasing control over the Iraqi government.
Israel Next Leg of the Trip: Shoring Up Vital Regional Ally
After departing Saudi Arabia, the president will visit Israel, long one of America’s most important allies in the Middle East. The Israeli visit will test the president’s ability to handle small, thorny issues. Israel has been out of the global spotlight in recent weeks, but numerous complicated challenges remain.
Already, a Trump administration official has apparently riled its Israeli counterparts with comments that the “West Wall” is not a part of Israel. The Trump aide noted that the wall is in the occupied West Bank and declined an invitation to visit the West Wall with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The administration itself has officially denied taking this position.
Another hot topic of discussion will be American plans to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Rumor has it that Netanyahu has actually urged the president in private to keep the American embassy in Tel Aviv for now. Most likely, the move would rile up Palestinians.
Italy, Brussels, and Vatican City
After wrapping up in Israel, the president is expected to make a quick swing through Europe, including a stop to see the Pope in Vatican City. Interestingly, the administration has pointed out that no president has visited the holy lands of all three Abrahamic faiths in one trip. The Pope, so far, has promised the president a “sincere” meeting. Pope Francis has proven to be one of the more liberal and reform-minded popes in modern history.
Trump will also meet with NATO in Brussels. This meeting will be especially interesting, as Trump has frequently criticized NATO and Europe in general. The president may be looking to smooth things over with America’s allies, or he might move to stir things up again.
Trump will also be meeting with the Group of Seven in Sicily. The G7 includes the United States, Japan, Canada, UK, France, Germany, and Italy. Trump’s tendency toward protectionism and strong “America first” rhetoric promises to be a topic of heated discussion.