WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump’s first foreign trip will feature visits to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Vatican, he said Thursday, noting that he will meet with leaders from across the Muslim world in Saudi Arabia. The Holy See confirmed that the pope would host him in Rome.
“My first foreign trip as president of the United States will be to Saudi Arabia, then Israel, and then to a place that my cardinals love very much, Rome,” Trump told reporters.
A White House statement said the visit to Israel was aimed at “further strengthen(ing) the United States-Israel partnership.” Indicating that Trump would meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, the statement said “The leaders will discuss a range of regional issues, including the need to counter the threats posed by Iran and its proxies, and by ISIS and other terrorist groups. They will also discuss ways to advance a genuine and lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.”
Trump also accepted an invitation to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the statement said, “to discuss ways to advance peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, as well as efforts to unlock the potential of the Palestinian economy.” There was no word as to where that meeting would take place.
He does not intend to go to Ramallah, Channel 2 reported, but rather wants to visit Bethlehem. His meeting with Abbas would be their second in less than a month.
Trump will add the three stops to an already announced visit to NATO and G7 summits in Brussels and Sicily later this month.
The Israel leg of the trip is expected to take place on May 22-23.
Members of Trump’s preparatory team, who have been in Israel in recent days, have indicated the president wants to deliver the main speech of his visit to Israel at the iconic desert fortress of Masada, Channel 2 reported.
In a press conference, Trump said he “will begin [the foreign trip] with a truly historic gathering in Saudi Arabia with leaders from all across the Muslim world,” and noted: “Saudi Arabia is the custodian of the two holiest sites in Islam.”
In markedly conciliatory language, he added: “It is there 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.”
Pope Francis will receive Trump at the Vatican on May 24, the Holy See said.
On Wednesday, Trump hosted Abbas in Washington, at a meeting in which he expressed optimism in his ability to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
“We will get it done. We will be working so hard to get it done. It’s been a long time, but we will be working diligently, and I think there’s a very, very good chance,” Trump said during a joint press conference with Abbas at the White House.
The president, who has referred to a Mideast peace agreement as “the ultimate deal,” said he would be willing to play whatever role was needed to strike the coveted but elusive accord.
Abbas, in comments published Thursday by the official PA news outlet Wafa, expressed his “deep appreciation” to Trump after “constructive and in-depth talks that represented a promising start for peace during the Trump administration.”
In a television interview Thursday morning with official PA television, Abbas said Trump was “enthusiastic” and “has a political vision.”
“We spoke about many different areas, including how we will begin quickly to solve the Palestinian issue. The American president was interested and enthusiastic. He has a political vision and we are going with him, on the hopes it will lead to this solution,” Abbas said.
Abbas said that after his meeting with Trump in the White House, the American and Palestinian teams will remain in contact to coordinate bilateral relations and issues regarding the peace talks.
The Palestinian leader also said he invited Trump to visit Bethlehem over the next Christmas holiday. “God willing he will have the opportunity to visit us in the Holy Land,” he said.
The timing of Trump’s visit — coinciding with Jerusalem Day, when Israel will celebrate 50 years since the reunification of the city under its control after the 1967 Six Day War — has sparked speculation that he might use the trip make a major announcement regarding the city.
Florida Rep. Ron DeSantis (R) publicly mused last week that Trump could announce the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem while he’s in Israel.
“What better time could there be to announce the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem than when you are over here celebrating with our Israeli friends this very important 50th anniversary of the liberation of Jerusalem?” he said.
Over the course of his campaign, Trump repeatedly promised he would move the embassy, but since assuming office, he has seemingly stepped away from that pledge.
DeSantis, who is chairman of the House Oversight National Security Subcommittee, has supervision over American embassies around the world. Earlier this year he visited Jerusalem touring potential embassy sites.
DeSantis is not the only Trump ally to insist the issue is not dead.
Vice President Mike Pence told American Jewish leaders on Tuesday that Trump was still deliberating on the relocation.
“The president of the United States, as we speak, is giving serious consideration into moving the American embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” he said.
Trump will have to make an important decision on the matter.
Congress passed a law in 1995 mandating the embassy be moved to Jerusalem, but it allowed the president to exercise a six-month waiver on national security grounds.
Every president since, including Barack Obama’s predecessors George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, signed that waiver every six months.
The last one, signed in December by Obama, expires at the end of May, when Trump will be forced to either sign it or follow through on his campaign promise.
AFP contributed to this report.