RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — A royal greeting was bestowed on President Donald Trump Saturday after he touched down in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and a leading regional power.
A president’s first foreign visit is often read as a sign of the administration’s policy priorities and no other U.S. leader has chosen the kingdom for an initial international foray.
The pomp and pageantry included a signing ceremony for a military arms deal to Saudi Arabia, worth $110 billion effective immediately and up to $350 billion over 10 years, and ended with a boisterous banquet filled with music and dancing.
"That was a tremendous day. Tremendous investments in the United States," Trump told reporters earlier Saturday. "Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs."
Trump's maiden trip abroad began hours earlier with King Salman, the nation's 81-year-old leader, meeting him and first lady Melania Trump on the tarmac and walking them back to the terminal on a red carpet flanked by Saudi military. The group held a brief greeting ceremony before the president's motorcade sped away from the airport.
American and Saudi flags lined the highways of the country's capital, Riyadh, along with billboards featuring Trump's face. Trumpets played and jets flew overhead streaming red, white and blue contrails.
The fanfare contrasted with the low-key reception offered to former President Barack Obama last year. That visit followed a fraying of U.S.-Saudi ties, while Trump’s arrival is seen by both administrations as an opportunity to reset the relationship, especially after the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran that Riyadh vehemently opposed.
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Hours later President Trump arrived for his official welcome ceremony at the royal offices, flanked by a herd of horsemen carrying Saudi and American flags. While there he was awarded the Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud Medal, named after the kingdom's founder and considered its highest honor.
Trump was scheduled to meet with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and participate in signing ceremonies for several agreements that “further solidify U.S.-Saudi security and economic cooperation,” according to aides.
U.S. technology and engineering giant GE said Saturday it had signed $15 billion worth of business deals with Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are expected to purchase billions more in U.S. military equipment over the next 10 years.
The president also participated in major meetings with Arab and Muslim leaders from around the globe, including an international event organized by the Saudis around his visit entitled the "Arab Islamic American Summit."
The day of diplomacy concluded with a festive banquet at Murabba Palace, where Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were among the attendees to dance with swords during a lavish dinner. Trump was also captured swaying to the music.
On Sunday, Trump is due to address the global Muslim community in what national security adviser H.R. McMaster called an “inspiring, but direct speech on the need to confront radical ideology."
Before leaving the United States Friday, Trump said he would use his trip to protect American interests.
Joining Trump on his voyage is a who's who of White House senior staff, including his daughter and senior advisor Ivanka Trump, his son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, chief of staff Reince Priebus, White House press secretary Sean Spicer and chief strategist Steve Bannon.
Ivanka Trump was also planning to hold a round table discussion on women's economic empowerment with prominent Saudi women, according to the White House. The president's daughter has championed working women since joining the administration.
This is her second foreign foray as a member Trump's team. In April she participated in a panel discussion at the Women20 summit in Berlin, Germany.
The Saudi visit will be followed by stops in Israel, the Vatican, Belgium, and Sicily, and comes after a presidential campaign marked by Trump's anti-Muslim and even anti-Saudi rhetoric.
During the presidential race, Trump criticized his Democratic adversary Hillary Clinton for taking money from Saudi Arabia and other countries that "want women as slaves and to kill gays."
He also said he saw Muslims "clapping and cheering" while the World Trade Center in New York City fell on Sept. 11, 2001 — a widely debunked claim — and pledged to stop Muslims from entering the country.
Early on in his presidency, Trump signed an eventually unsuccessful travel ban that barred citizens from a handful of Muslim-majority countries, although not Saudi Arabia.