Saudi Arabia and Israel Will Be on Itinerary of Trump’s First Foreign Trip

WASHINGTON — When President Trump announced Thursday that he would visit the centers of three great religions on his first foreign trip, his advisers presented it as a sign that the United States planned to marshal a powerful coalition against the forces of intolerance.

But Mr. Trump’s stops — in Saudi Arabia, Israel and Rome — are equally revealing as a contrast to the first trip to the Middle East made by his predecessor, President Barack Obama. The stark differences between that trip, in June 2009, and Mr. Trump’s later this month speak to how the world has changed in the last eight years and how this new president plans to confront it.

“Tolerance is the cornerstone of peace,” Mr. Trump said at a ceremony at the White House, in which he said he would go to “Saudi Arabia, then Israel, and then to a place that my cardinals love very much, Rome.”

Mr. Obama also traveled to Saudi Arabia in June 2009, but not to Israel. The centerpiece of his trip was a landmark address to the Muslim world at Cairo University in the Egyptian capital. Mr. Trump’s aides said nothing about a speech, suggesting that the president would mainly transact his business with leaders behind closed doors.

White House officials said foreign leaders would be more willing to help the United States if disagreements over human rights and other issues were aired in private. They cited the recent release of an Egyptian-American aid worker detained in Egypt, which was negotiated in quiet talks with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

“Obama’s approach was to build support with the Arab public through his Cairo speech,” said Martin S. Indyk, the executive vice president of the Brookings Institution. “Trump’s approach is to deal with the Arab leaders, not speak to their people, which is much more comfortable for the leaders.”

For the first international trip by a president who is something of a homebody, Mr. Trump’s itinerary is ambitious. Aides said he would leave Washington on May 19 and stop first in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, before moving on to Jerusalem and then Rome. He will attend a NATO meeting in Brussels that opens on May 24 and then fly to Sicily, where the leaders of the Group of 7 will meet starting May 26.

By this point in his tenure, Mr. Obama had already taken three overseas trips, visiting nine countries. Mr. Trump is upending the recent presidential tradition of visiting Canada or Mexico before venturing elsewhere. He has hosted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada at the White House, but relations with both neighbors are tense because of Mr. Trump’s focus on trade disputes and renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In one way, he is hewing to tradition. Mr. Trump’s aides said it was important for the president to go to Israel right after Saudi Arabia, both to support a close ally and to begin the process of negotiating a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, which Mr. Trump, like Mr. Obama and other presidents before him, has made a major goal of his foreign policy.

The trip was announced a day after Mr. Trump hosted President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority at the White House, the latest of his meetings with Middle Eastern leaders, including those from Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. While in Jerusalem, Mr. Trump is considering a side trip to Bethlehem to meet with Mr. Abbas again.

White House officials have shared little about their specific plans to broker a deal between the Israelis and Palestinians, though there are reports that Mr. Trump hopes to convene a summit meeting of Israeli and Arab leaders, perhaps in the summer. The president has asked his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to oversee the effort and appointed one of his lawyers, Jason D. Greenblatt, to carry out the negotiations.

While Mr. Trump declared during his meeting with Mr. Abbas that making peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians would not be as hard as some thought and that “we will get this done,” his aides were more measured.

“You have to try something,” one aide said. “You have to take shots.” The aide said that Arabs were more engaged in working on the problem than in the past, but that the president had an obligation to try, even if he cannot succeed: “Whether we can or can’t, it’s our job to try.”

One major change, the aides noted, is the strengthened position of Iran, which they said had encouraged Israel and its Arab neighbors to find common ground. They said Mr. Trump’s hard line against Iran during the campaign had restored the confidence of Persian Gulf countries about America’s leadership role. Mr. Trump plans to meet with leaders from across the Muslim world while in Saudi Arabia, his aides said.

By going to Jerusalem after Saudi Arabia, Mr. Trump will avoid Mr. Obama’s stumble in deciding to skip Israel. Many Israelis never overcame their suspicion of him after that, and his relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deteriorated into mutual loathing. Some of Mr. Obama’s aides came to regret his decision, which was made after fierce internal debate.

But Mr. Trump could also learn from Mr. Obama’s experience in Saudi Arabia. Mr. Obama, too, traveled there first, in an effort to extract reciprocal gestures from the Saudi monarch at the time, King Abdullah, that the White House hoped would facilitate new peace talks with Israel.

Mr. Obama, however, was rebuffed by the king, who told him, “We will be the last to make peace with the Israelis,” according to two White House officials who were on the trip.

Mr. Trump’s aides laid the groundwork for his visit in March, in a long meeting and lunch with Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. A senior White House official said he was surprised by the willingness of the Saudis to work with the United States.

The Saudi stop will consist of three meetings for Mr. Trump: one with the current monarch, King Salman; a gathering of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which consists of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries; and a broader meeting with Arab and Muslim countries.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, who was in Washington for meetings, said he believed Mr. Trump’s “fresh approach” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “could have a very high probability of succeeding.” He seemed satisfied but not especially impressed that Mr. Trump had chosen Saudi Arabia over traditional destinations, like Canada, for his first trip.

“It’s historic,” Mr. Jubeir said, “but it shouldn’t be a surprise, given the nature of the relationship.”

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