President Donald Trump was lavished with extravagant royal pomp here Saturday during his first stop abroad as President, an elaborate start to a trip meant to bolster international partnerships but which aides now hope can reset a scandal-pocked narrative back home.
Trump’s stop in an enthusiastic Saudi capital is the first in a nine-day, five-country swing across the Middle East and Europe. The complex itinerary will take Trump to the capitals of three great world religions and introduce him to the grueling pace of presidential foreign travel.
Trump departed Washington as controversies swirled, all centering on the alleged ties between his campaign and Russia. He wasn’t able to completely escape the storm in Riyadh: at an evening news conference, his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was forced to answer a question about the matter.
But for the most part, Trump’s first day on foreign soil proceeded without major hiccups.
Saturday’s capstone was the signing of a $110 billion arms deal between the two countries, an agreement brokered primarily by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. The deal will bring American-made ships, planes and bombs to Saudi Arabia, which is seeking to bolster its regional military prowess.
The administration cast the deal as a renewal of US commitment to the region, though many of the sales included in the agreement were approved by the Obama administration.
Trump and King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud oversaw the signing on Saturday afternoon during an extended ceremony in a large gilded reception hall at the Royal Court. Multiple agreements between American and Saudi companies, including between the Saudi oil giant Aramco and various US firms, were inked during the event.
Trump lauded the deals as “tremendous investments in the United States.”
“That was a tremendous day. Tremendous investments in the United States. Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs,” Trump said.
Air Force One touched down earlier Saturday at the King Khalid airport in Riyadh, where Trump was greeted on a red carpet-bedecked tarmac by King Salman and other high-level Saudi officials. The grand welcome — which featured a military brass band and a fighter jet flyover — demonstrated just how highly anticipated Trump’s arrival was to this Middle Eastern kingdom.
It also seemed designed to flatter a President famous for a gilded lifestyle. In Riyadh, a five-story image of Trump’s face was projected on the exterior of the Ritz Carlton hotel where he’ll stay, and large billboards of Trump and King Salman lined the highway from the airport.
Saturday will be the first night Trump sleeps in a property that isn’t his own since becoming President. He’s slept only at the White House, his Mar-a-Lago resort and his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, since January.