President Donald Trump basked in Saudi Arabia’s lavish royal welcome royal welcome on Saturday as he left behind, at least temporarily, the snowballing controversies dogging him in Washington.
Mr Trump rewarded his hosts with a 110 billion US dollar arms package aimed at bolstering Saudi security and a slew of business agreements.
“That was a tremendous day, tremendous investments in the United States,” Mr Trump said during a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.
The visit to the kingdom’s capital kicked off Mr Trump’s first foreign trip as president, an ambitious, five-stop swing that will take him through the Middle East and into Europe.
He is the only American president to make Saudi Arabia, or any Muslim-majority nation, his first overseas trip.
Mr Trump arrived in Riyadh besieged by the fallout from his firing of FBI director James Comey and more revelations about the federal investigations into his election campaign’s possible ties to Russia.
Escaping Washington for the embrace of the Saudi royal family appeared to give Mr Trump a boost.
After an overnight flight, the president was greeted at the airport by King Salman, which was notable given that the monarch did not show up last year to welcome President Barack Obama on his final visit to Saudi Arabia.
Mr Trump descended the steps alongside first lady Melania Trump, who wore a black pantsuit and gold belt, but did not cover her hair in the ultra-conservative kingdom, in keeping with the traditions of Western delegations.
As Mr Trump and the 81-year-old king, who was aided by a cane, walked along the red carpet, military jets flew swept the sky, leaving a red, white and blue trail.
During a ceremony at the grand Saudi Royal Court, King Salman awarded Mr Trump the Collar of Abdulaziz al Saud, the kingdom’s highest civilian honour.
Saudi Arabia has previously bestowed the honour on Russian president Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Theresa May and Mr Obama.
Mr Trump made no substantial remarks on his first day abroad and spent most of his time shuttling between opulent palace ballrooms with the king.
The two were overheard discussing natural resources and arms, and King Salman bemoaned the destruction caused by Syria’s civil war.
The most tangible agreement between the two leaders was the 110 billion US dollar sale of military equipment to Saudi Arabia that is effective immediately and could expand up to 350 billion US dollars over 10 years.
The deal includes tanks, combat ships, missile defence systems, radar and communications, and cybersecurity technology.
The State Department said the agreement could support “tens of thousands of new jobs in the United States”.
Later on Saturday, Mr Trump was greeted by a traditional troupe of Saudi drummers and sword-waving dancers. Mr Trump smirked and bopped to the beat as he made his way through the crowd.
On Sunday, Mr Trump and the king were to join more than 50 regional leaders for meetings focused on combating the Islamic State group and other extremists.
The president was to give the signature speech of his trip, an address that aides view as counter to Mr Obama’s 2009 speech in Egypt to the Muslim world. Mr Trump has criticised Mr Obama’s remarks as too apologetic for US actions in the region.
Mr Trump planned to urge unity in the fight against radicalism in the Muslim world, casting the challenge as a “battle between good and evil” and appealing to Arab leaders to “drive out the terrorists from your places of worship”, according to a draft of the speech.
Ahead of the speech, Mr Trump said the two countries “have a wonderful relationship” but “there has been a little strain”.
He vowed to improve things further but did not specify what tension he needed to resolve.
Mr Trump said that he and the Emir of Qatar will discuss the purchase of “lots of beautiful military equipment”.
Mr Trump and Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani met on Sunday in a bilateral meeting.
The president said the two nations had been “friends for a long time”. He added that “no one makes” military equipment like the United States and said a deal would create jobs for the US and security for Qatar.