President Donald Trump has landed in Saudi Arabia as he begins his first foreign tour since taking office.
He touched down in the Middle East Saturday morning, hours after tweeting about his excitement for his first ‘big foreign trip.’
Trump flew to the capital Riyadh overnight on Air Force One – becoming the only president to make Saudi Arabia, or any majority Muslim country, his first stop overseas as president.
His arrival following a 6,700-mile flight was met with the pomp usually reserved for the likes of a Papal welcome in South America.
The president got the red carpet treatment – literally – and some airport workers took off their shoes before manicuring it with brooms in 97-degree heat.
The Saudi King later presented Trump with the kingdom’s top civilian honor, the gold King Abdulaziz medal, at the royal court.
There were 30 U.S. flags at the ready at the airport, a tiny fraction of the thousands that line streets and highways between the airport and the city center.
A 90-person Royal Saudi Air Forces honor guard practiced rifle drills and then stood at attention while Trump and his kingly escort ambled toward the terminal.
He heard an eight-bugle fanfare, watched a seven-jet flyover trailing red, white and blue smoke. And cannon fire. Lots of cannon fire, which didn’t cease until Trump and King Salman were safely inside.
Inside the terminal, the fragrant smell of oud filled the air as workers burned the aromatic wood in charcoal lamps.
Wafting Saudi oud scents also permeate the air in the souks – marketplaces – that snake through the oldest part of town. Just steps away is Ad Deerah, known to locals as ‘chop-chop square’ because of periodic public beheadings.
Trump will face questions over the weekend about the wisdom of establishing partnerships with a government known for human rights violations and for its Medieval treatment of women.
Females cannot drive cars in the kingdom, and their every move, from travel to shopping, is overseen by male family members.
On Saturday the only females seen among the welcome retinue were a pair of small girls presenting flowers and an African-American woman, who turned out to be a U.S. Secret Service agent.
Melania and Ivanka Trump seemed determine to make a statement by deplaning without head coverings, a rare sight among women in Riyadh whose main choices are the hijab and the niqab.
Still, the first lady stayed a half-dozen steps behind King Salman and her politician-husband, escorted by a lone U.S. Marine in full dress uniform.
After a welcome ceremony inside the Royal Terminal, Trump and Salman sat together in ‘The Beast,’ the White House’s armored SUV that travels in the belly of Air Force One.
The first stop was the glitzy Ritz-Carlton, whose exterior is being lit up at night with giant projected images of the American flag.
Trump’s first overseas speech is expected to frame the global fight against ISIS and other Islamist terror groups as a ‘battle between good and evil’ – but early drafts suggest he will not use the phrase ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’
He will also call on leaders in the Middle East to ‘drive out terrorists from your places of worship.’
Signs of American caution are everywhere as the president who once campaigned on the strength of excluding Muslims from the U.S. ventured into the nation whose king partners in construction with the Bin Laden Group.
U.S. military snipers stood guard on nearby jetways. A duplicate Air Force One 747 jet stood by, lest Trump’s schedule should be waylaid by engine trouble.
Wearing a dark suit and a bright blue tie, the president descended stairs from his exclusive plane with first lady Melania Trump, after staff including his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner – arm in arm – exited from the rear of the aircraft.