President Donald Trump is on a nine-day trip to the Middle East and Europe starting on Saturday. It is his first foreign foray as US president and there are a lot of things going on. Here are five things you need to know about the visit:
1. Trump is giving a big speech on Islam in Saudi Arabia. Trump has had a rough time trying to prove he doesn’t hate Muslims. After all, during his election campaign, he once said he would support a ban on all Muslims entering the United States. He’s toned that down since becoming president, but an executive order banning entry to travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries, which was altered to six after widespread opposition, has been a nightmare.
A messy rollout, mass protests, court cases and confusion has mired it in controversy from day one. It also hasn’t tamped down the perception that Trump has it in for Muslims. His speech this weekend to Arab leaders is an attempt to calm fears and re-establish relations with a world eager to mend ties with the White House. Ironically, White House officials say it will focus heavily on the need to fight ISIL and “extremism”.
2. Trump is visiting the Western Wall. The president’s Israel policy has been cloudy and controversial. He supports moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which would infuriate Palestinians and Arab leaders. Like many countries, the US has kept its embassy in Tel Aviv since Jerusalem includes disputed territory.
Trump has also appointed Ambassador David Friedman, who has raised money for Jewish settlements in areas occupied by Israel but claimed by the Palestinians. Recently reports surfaced that a US diplomat told Israeli officials the Western Wall is in disputed territory. Trump’s national security adviser HR McMaster raised eyebrows last week when he refused to acknowledge unequivocally that it’s in Israel. No leaders will accompany Trump on his visit to the wall.
3. Trump is meeting with Pope Francis. This will be his first time as president and it might be a little awkward. During the 2016 election campaign, the pope said anyone who wants to build a wall – referring to Trump’s most popular promise to build one extending along the US-Mexican border to prevent illegal immigration – “is not Christian”. Trump responded publicly by calling those words “disgraceful” and speculating that when ISIL attacks the Vatican, “I can promise you that the pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president.”
4. Big protests are expected in Belgium. Trump will visit both NATO headquarters and the offices of the European Union (EU) while on a two-day stop in Brussels. He once called NATO “obsolete” and has suggested that some countries may follow the British vote to exit the EU. He has since walked back both comments as president.
But that won’t stop Europeans from showing up to protest against his visit. A “Trump Not Welcome” Facebook page has nearly 9,000 people claiming they will attend. Donald Tusk, European Council president, has called Trump a threat to the continent.
5. Merkel and Obama will meet the same day Trump is at NATO. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Trump will give remarks during the NATO meeting, but not before she attends an event with former US president Barack Obama. They will make remarks at the Brandenburg gate, a symbolic spot where the Berlin Wall – the dividing line between East and West Germany – once stood. It’s also where former US president Ronald Reagan once appealed to the Soviets to “tear down this wall”.
The not-so-subtle attack on the danger of building walls will undoubtedly be seen as a dig at the current president by the former. Trump has accused Obama of spying on him and received Merkel coolly during an Oval Office visit in March.