Saudi Arabia is making every effort to dazzle and impress President Donald Trump on his first overseas trip, seizing on the visit to cement itself as a major player on the world stage and shove aside rival Iran.
CORNISH: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.
President Trump's first stop on his multi-country trip will be to Saudi Arabia. There is vast pressure on his advance teams of young, inexperienced staffers who negotiate the stagecraft of Trump's encounters with foreign leaders and prepare agendas of meetings.
For his part, Trump hopes to leave the swirl of political scandals behind in Washington with the pomp of a two-day visit to a longtime ally that fulfills his vision of reasserting American power around the globe after what he considers a retreat by the Obama administration.
Information for this article was contributed by Aya Batrawy of The Associated Press; by Tracy Wilkinson of Tribune News Service; and by Ben Hubbard of The New York Times. On Wednesday, the White House extended Iran's relief from sanctions under the deal, thereby passing up an opportunity to undermine it. Saudi Arabia is expected to press the USA on Iran and reiterate its position that Iran's activity in the region is the cause of a great deal of instability.
Known to dislike long trips, the president will be joined by his wife Melania, who has until now cut a highly discreet figure at his side.
After all, his fellow foreign leaders are deeply curious about his agenda and, in Saudi Arabia and Israel in particular, are likely to want to make a positive impression.
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While Washington digs into why President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey and what a new special counsel at the Justice Department will try to learn about Trump associates and Russian Federation, the president is jetting off. Trump will try to leave his troubles behind him tomorrow as he departs on the first foreign trip of his presidency.
The country will gather many Arab leaders to a summit during his visit. Others said those lengthy sessions will be a test of Trump's patience and ability to cede the spotlight, and they worry about a gaffe or blunder. For one thing, the hosts have extended an invitation to Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, now under indictment by the ICC for war crimes and genocide, a choice which has upset many in Washington, if not necessarily the President himself.
Apart from Saudi officials, Trump will also meet leaders of more than 50 Muslim countries, including the six nations that form the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
"Who blew up the World Trade Center?" he said.
Saudi Arabia has welcomed Trump's hard rhetoric on Iran, which contrasts with the outreach that culminated in the Obama administration's nuclear deal with Tehran.
Following these two stops, he will make his way to Italy to meet with Pope Francis.
Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington who how is a deputy minister for diplomacy, said mutual antipathy toward Iran could be the key.
At a briefing, he said it would be the first time a sitting U.S. president has visited the birthplaces and holy sites of the world's three major religions - Christianity, Judaism and Islam.