United States President Donald Trump has landed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on his first trip abroad since taking office. He is reportedly also expected to have a meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is expected to leave the Kingdom tomorrow, on the sidelines.
Trump's visit is aimed at building stronger partnerships to combat terrorism in the region. He also hopes to move past the controversies engulfing his administration.
Part of his visit entails attending the US-Arab-Islamic Summit, where he hopes to lay the foundations for an “Arab Nato force” to push back Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East as well as combat terrorism.
Trump, accompanied by his wife Melania and White House aides, flew to Riyadh overnight on Air Force One. He's the only American president to make Saudi Arabia, or any majority Muslim country, his first stop overseas as president. The scheduling choice is designed in part to show respect to the region after months of harsh anti-Muslim campaign rhetoric.
Received by King Salman, the president began his visit with a coffee ceremony with the monarch of Saudi Arabia.
He'll participate later in an arrival ceremony at the Saudi Royal Court and a luncheon banquet, followed by a bilateral meeting with the king, a signing ceremony and a meeting with the Deputy Crown Prince, Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.
On Saturday night, he'll attend a royal banquet at Murabba Palace followed by a tour of the National Museum.
As part of his nine-day, multi-country tour, Trump will also travel to Israel, have an audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican, and attend the NATO summit in Brussels and the Group of 7 meeting in Sicily.
‘Fantasy of Arab Nato’
Pakistan is one of the closest allies of the Kingdom. The two maintain a strong defence partnership. The Pakistani government granted special permission to the former army chief retired Gen Raheel Sharif to lead the multinational military force being created by the Saudis. British journalist Robert Fisk, an expert on Middle Eastern affairs, in his article in the Independent wrote that Mr Trump’s visit was for realising “the fantasy of an Arab Nato”.
Mr Sharif, while accepting the invitation for the summit, has reaffirmed Pakistan’s alliance with the Kingdom by recalling the commonality of views of two countries on most regional and international issues and their collaboration for achieving common interests and objectives.
It is unlikely that Prime Minister Sharif would get a one-on-one bilateral meeting with President Trump on the sidelines of the summit. At least, Mr Trump’s schedule does not show any possibility for such an interaction. The Foreign Office was silent on chances of a speculated meeting between the two.
The Washington-based Pakistani media, however, have learned that the Saudis are backing Pakistan’s request for a brief Sharif-Trump meeting before the US president flies out to Israel and then to Europe for more talks with America’s Nato allies.
Diplomatic sources in Washington say that since scores of world leaders are attending the summit, it would be difficult to arrange exclusive meetings between the US president and other leaders but “Americans are trying to find space for a very brief one-on-one between Mr Sharif and Mr Trump”.