Friday, 28 July, 2017

Wading Into Murky Waters, Trump Trip To Advocate Religious Unity

A true friend of Muslims. Donald Trump with Mohammed bin Salman in March A true friend of Muslims. Donald Trump with Mohammed bin Salman in March. Bloomberg
Laurie Berry | 19 May, 2017, 18:55

The White House touts a "historic" trip during which Trump - in visits to Saudi Arabia, the Vatican and Jerusalem - will reach out to leaders of the world's major monotheistic faiths. And then, he changed his mind as president and said that it's no longer obsolete, but he still wants its members to, as he puts it, pay their fair share, meaning that they should spend more on their own national defense.

"I'll speak with Muslim leaders and challenge them to fight hatred and extremism, and embrace a peaceful future for their faith", Trump promised ahead of the trip.

The stakes will be far higher as President Trump makes his debut on the worldwide stage.

Trump travels to Jerusalem where he will meet with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and lay a wreath at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, and deliver remarks at the Israel museum. That said, the leaders in Saudi Arabia and some of the other Gulf states that President Trump will be meeting with are not as obsessed with this as, say, the media and many in America are. Israel was in an uproar earlier this week after USA officials confirmed Trump shared highly classified intelligence about the Islamic State group with senior Russian officials visiting the White House. Two officials said they feared that a hard trip might even lead the president to hand off future traveling duties to Vice President Mike Pence.

"The chance of something going wrong - you insult the hosts, you get sick, your boss gets sick, you miscommunicate with your hosts, you make a scheduling error, you need to change the schedule just hours before a meeting, the motorcade get stuck in traffic, or the plane is stranded due to bad weather - is extremely high", said Julianne Smith, who served as a foreign policy adviser to Vice President Joe Biden and is now a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security. US policy holds that ownership of the holiest site where Jews can pray, as with the rest of Jerusalem, is subject to Israeli-Palestinian negotiation.

Trump will also stop at North Atlantic Treaty Organisation headquarters in Brussels and attend a G7 summit in Italy. He recently has shifted to reassure wary allies that he remains committed to the pact.

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He also spoke of "colonialism", acknowledged the U.S.'s role in the overthrow of an elected government in Iran in 1953, and criticized Western countries for "dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear". Key parts of the group are unsettled by Trump's unpredictability and his willingness to cheer on nationalist sentiment. Officials say the message is "unity". And, yes, President Trump is the very same person who proposed a Muslim ban during the campaign and in the past has said things that are widely perceived as being opposed to the Islamic religion.

Saudi Arabia is not a signatory to the Rome Statute under which the ICC was founded, while Sudan and the United States have not ratified the statute of the Hague-based court.

While some Middle East leaders will likely greet Trump warmly, he could receive a far cooler reception in Europe.

The trip marks the first time since taking office that Trump has spent a night away from the White House at a property that doesn't bear his name. Of the 19 presidents that followed, 14 have made their first official trips to nearby nations, according to data from the State Department.

Trump's inauguration sparked thousands of protesters to fill the streets of several European capitals, chaotic scenes that could be repeated during his stops in Rome, Brussels and Sicily. They see great opportunity here. But the downside is that it could be dominated by domestic-style questions. Every first trip is over-scrutinized. "The whole world is watching".

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