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Trump to embark on first overseas trip

19 May 2017

President Donald Trump departs Friday on his first foreign trip as Commander-in-Chief, accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump.

That was before he fired his Federal Bureau of Investigation director — and the chain reaction of scandal that followed.

The trip also risks being overshadowed by the spectre of possible impeachment that is stalking the president at home. Many presidents have tried to use statesmanship overseas to distract from problems at home, but the Trump brand of diplomacy has some analysts anxious that the nine-day tour of allies in the Mideast and Europe might only make his troubles worse. 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. "The great thing about a trip, they control the environment, you control the interaction, you control the agenda and you control the press access".

All are members of the USA coalition striking Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria, as well as among the world's top energy producers and biggest military spenders.

Moreover, the president's oft-stated opposition to the 2015 Iran deal - and his sweeping aside Obama administration concerns about Saudi airstrikes on civilian targets in Yemen - has the Saudis willing to overlook Trump's strident language about Muslims during the presidential campaign. Last week, he added new layers of complication by disclosing classified intelligence to a longtime adversary.

The meetings build on some issues the first daughter has already worked on at the White House.

The agreement, between the United States under former president Barack Obama, five other world powers, and Tehran, was viewed with suspicion by Riyadh.

Brady says the question is how well President Trump, who often speaks off script, will fare in this first test of foreign diplomacy.

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"He's already on thin ice after his attempt to defend the president's discussion of intelligence with the Russians, and he urged the president to do this trip, which may have been a bad idea", said one USA official.

The Obama administration invested years on a high-stakes gamble to negotiate a deal to limit Iran's nuclear program in return for easing global economic sanctions.

The White House touts a "historic" trip during which Trump - in visits to Saudi Arabia, the Vatican and Jerusalem - will reach out to leaders of the world's major monotheistic faiths.

President Donald Trump's supporters see his overseas trip as a chance to escape the non-stop revelations related to Russian Federation, but more likely he'll drag the controversy with him overseas - adding another dimension to an already tricky travel schedule. The information, about an IS threat related to the use of laptops on aircraft, came from Israel and there were concerns a valuable Israeli asset could be in danger, a USA official said, requesting anonymity to discuss the sensitive material.

The President's national security adviser, HR McMaster, said he "will deliver an inspiring but direct speech on the need to confront radical ideology and the President's hopes for a peaceful vision of Islam to dominate across the world".

In Rome, the president will call upon Pope Francis, the popular, liberal-minded pontiff. White House officials said he'll reassert American leadership during the tour of three religious capitals in Saudi Arabia, Israel and Rome before sitting down with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation leaders in Brussels and G7 counterparts in Sicily. He recently has shifted to reassure wary allies that he remains committed to the pact.

Saudi Arabia wants to seize on Trump's visit to show itself as an earnest partner in the war on terror.

"President Trump has an unprecedented and serious intention to work with the Muslim world and to achieve its interests and Prince Mohammed considers his Excellency as a true friend of Muslims". Officials say the message is "unity".

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"This trip will convey that America is back", Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a news conference at the State Department.

Yet, if he and his team score some early policy successes on the first leg of the trip, they may gain some respite from their domestic troubles. This is a battle about good and evil.

While some Middle East leaders will likely greet Trump warmly, he could receive a far cooler reception in Europe.

He will make a trip to Rome for an audience with Pope Francis, attend the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit in Brussels and the G-7 summit of developed nations in Sicily.

The last president to take longer before traveling overseas was Lyndon B. Johnson, who waited more than 10 months after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 before visiting Canada. He performed at Trump's pre-inauguration concert.

But as the Republican takes his first steps as head of state on the world stage, his every word, action and tweet will be under the microscope.

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