US President Donald Trump’s first foreign visit to Saudi Arabia on May 23 shows Washington’s careful response on how to combat militant groups such as ISIS by keeping its allies close, especially Riyadh, which has long successfully fought extremism at least on its ground.
The White House made the announcement about Trump’s visit on Thursday with the 45th president saying that he would begin to construct a new foundation to combat “terrorism” during the trip.
This is the first time a US President has chosen a Muslim country for the first foreign trip. Usually they choose their neighbouring countries or Western allies for that honour. Former President Barack Obama visited Canada in 2009 and Goerge W. Bush in 2001 chose Mexico.
Analysts say that the recent visit by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in mid-March played a major role in parts of the Trump doctrine towards the Muslim world and convinced Trump to choose Saudi Arabia as the first foreign country to visit as US President.
Saman's trip also encouraged Trump to relaunch America's historical ties with the Kingdom and to reverse former president Barack Obama's approach towards Saudi arabia and the region.
Senior administration officials also said on Thursday that they are working to build a framework in the Middle East to counter ISIS and Iran, and provide a security blanket for America’s allies in the region.
Fighting ISIS was one of Trump’s main pledges that he made during the 2016 presidential campaign, where he made it clear that he needed to involve more Muslim countries.
Saudi Arabia, a reliable and longtime US ally, caries a major influence in the Muslim world, especially after it formed the 34-member Islamic Military Alliance (IMA) against terrorism and extremism.
Before his visit, Trump also said he wanted to build a coalition against terrorism and extremists that includes US allies in the Middle East, further prioritizing IMA’s founder and leader, Saudi Arabia.
US officials on Thursday also said that King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud is inviting regional Muslim leaders to meet with Trump.
Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia is also a showcase of Trump’s resolute will to combat ISIS, especially after he authorized the dropping of a MOAB on a suspected ISIS camp in Afghanistan in April.
Amid the controversial and failed Muslim ban, Trump intended to prioritize relations with a major Muslim country such as Saudi Arabia, which happens to have the best air force in the region, is a way to soften his stance towards Muslims, especially if he intends to eradicate ISIS.
Saudi Arabia is a home for Islam’s holiest sites and Trump's visit to the Kingdom is also a symbolic gesture that the historic US-Saudi ties are here to stay.
US-Saudi ties date back to when late President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with the first Saudi king, Abdul Aziz ibn Saud.
Trump wants to show that Saudi Arabia is a pivotal ally for the United States, especially after differences arose during President Barack Obama's era, where the latter gave greater advantages to Iran when he lifted economic sanctions against Tehran following the nuclear deal.
The United States and Saudi Arabia also share common outlook on Syria and Iran.
Saudi Arabia was quick to endorse the US cruise missile attack on the Syrian air base in the capital Damascus in April as a punitive measure for the horrendous chemical massacre in Idlib.
Also, both Washington and Riyadh see Tehran, one of the main backers of the Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, as a threat to their interests in the region.
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