Trump to visit the Vatican, Israel and Saudi Arabia on first foreign trip

Story highlights

  • This is Trump's first foreign trip
  • He will also visit Saudi Arabia

Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump said Thursday his first foreign trip later this month will include visits to the Vatican, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, stops that his top aides hope will both combat views of the President abroad and build toward Middle East peace.

The stops will come before Trump attends a NATO meeting in Brussels on May 25 and a G7 meeting in Italy on May 26.
"Saudi Arabia is the custodian of the two holiest sites in Islam, and it is there that we will begin to construct a new foundation of cooperation and support with our Muslim allies to combat extremism, terrorism and violence, and to embrace a more just and hopeful future for young Muslims in their countries," Trump said Thursday in announcing his trip during a Rose Garden ceremony where the he signed a religious liberty executive order.
"Our task is not to dictate to others how to live, but to build a coalition of friends and partners who share the goal of fighting terrorism and bringing safety, opportunity and stability to the Middle East," Trump said.
First lady Melania Trump will "will accompany her husband for the entire trip," an East Wing spokeswoman told CNN.
Trump, a senior administration official said, feels like accomplishing Middle East peace is "one of the things that he has to try to do" during his presidency and has been "very involved" with "a lot of ideas" during the trip's planning.
The trip has been coordinated by the White House, in cooperation with the National Security Council and the State Department, another official said.
To date, Trump has left the foreign travel to his top aides and Cabinet members, including Vice President Mike Pence, who has been on two international trips so far, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Trump's visits to the Vatican, Israel and Saudi Arabia were first reported by Politico.
Other senior administration officials told CNN this is part of the strategy to reach out across religions and countries to combat extremism -- both to fight ISIS and to further isolate Iran. He will visit Jerusalem, Israel, and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, according to a senior administration official.
There is also a clear interest among top aides in the White House to counter the view Trump has cultivated abroad.
"Saudi Arabia is going to convene a lot of the leaders from the Muslim world, and you will see that there is a lot of objectives they share with America," one senior administration official said.
Trump ran on a ban of Muslims entering the United States, proposing the in a December 2015 announcement a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States" until American officials could get a handle on terror. While his campaign slowly backed away from that pledge, one of Trump's first actions in the White House was to push a travel ban for seven - and eventually six - Muslim majority countries.
The trip is meant to show that Trump's "America First" motto is "fully compatible with American leadership in the world," another official said.
Trump's election has provided the United States with opportunities to "re-engage the world," the officials said, given Trump's perceived unpredictability and that he is "not dogmatic to one school of thought, (rather) open-minded, flexible and opportunistic."
The senior administration officials said it's a time when the Trump administration can pursue policies that "strengthen our hand and weaken our enemies."
"Certain things will be formalized and announced in the time leading up to the visit," one senior administration official said.
A second senior administration official said that a recent visit to Saudi Arabia revealed an open-mindedness to stepping up and leading in a way the official had not seen in the country since right after 9/11.
"Saudi Arabia realizes the challenges it has; and there is a similar feeling throughout the region," the official said.
Part of the problem, the officials said, stems from the Obama administration's nuclear deal with Iran, which they view as providing a path to a nuclear weapon for the country, as well as Iran's continued funding of terrorism throughout the region.
The officials add the administration has been working hard to produce a "meaningful set of deliverables" to be announced around the trip.
Trump's first foreign trip is coming later in his presidency than any president since Lyndon B. Johnson, who waited over 10 months after President John F. Kennedy was killed to travel abroad. He is also the first president since Carter to not make his first trip to Mexico or Canada.
Trump's top advisers insist the President is focused on making deals with foreign leaders in a bid to create a more secure planet, despite the lack of foreign travel. They point to frequent visits from foreign leaders -- including the most recent visit of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas -- as proof that Trump has influence on foreign affairs from the White House.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Thursday the President's first trip came after King Salman bin Abd Al-Aziz of Saudi Arabia, President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority extended invites to Trump.
Trump will also meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican during his trip, Spicer said.