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"America First" Hits Global Stage As Trump Takes First Trip Abroad

Tue, 16th May 2017 08:46

WASHINGTON (Alliance News) - US President Donald Trump made very clear his presidency marked a new era of "America First," but as the president prepares to head overseas for the first time, his administration is looking to clarify the US does not intend to go it alone.

"'America First' didn't mean 'America alone', ever," Trump's National Security Advisor HR McMaster said just days before Trump heads on a five-nation tour with stops in the Middle East and Europe.

"The president has done a great deal to strengthen our alliances. And 'America first' didn't mean 'America not leading.'"

Trump leaves for his first international trip on Friday with stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican, Belgium and Italy with the goals of reaffirming US global leadership, building relationships with world leaders and spreading a message of unity among three of the world's major religions, McMaster said.

The trip includes a meeting of NATO leaders in Brussels and the Group of Seven (G7) in Sicily.

Above all, the images of Trump on the world stage will be a critical measure of the trip's success, said Robert Danin of the Council on Foreign Relations.

"The visit is the message and success will be the president being presidential on the world stage," Danin said.

Trump's first international foray provides the challenge of illustrating US leadership even as much of his foreign policy team has yet to be named and the administration works out its positions on key issues from a strategy against Islamic State to whether to remain in the Paris climate agreement.

"What do European leaders want from the Trump administration? I think what they would all love is continuity," said Jeffrey Rathke of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Trump is the first US president in decades not to make his first international foray to one of the US' neighbours, Canada or Mexico.

"It is striking that the president during his campaign made it clear he'd like to get out of these wars in the broader Middle East, but his first stop is in the Middle East," said Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Trump will meet not only with Saudi King Salman, but hold broader talks with Gulf Cooperation Council leaders and the leaders of some two dozen other Muslim nations.

Trump could announce a major arms sale to the Saudis and discuss the conflicts in Yemen and Syria as well as concerns about Iran's destabilizing activities in the region.

In Israel, Trump is to hold talks with President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and travel to the Palestinian Authority for talks with President Mahmoud Abbas.

Both sides will be looking for signals from Trump on restarting the peace process, after he indicated a willingness to serve a mediator while hosting Abbas earlier this month.

Two key questions are whether Trump will voice support for a two-state solution and if he will take steps toward his promise of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.

From Israel, Trump will travel to the Vatican for an audience with Pope Francis, who has clashed with the US leader over his stance toward refugees and immigrants. The White House said Trump would discuss combating religious persecution, human trafficking and humanitarian missions with the pontiff.

He will also hold talks in Rome with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and President Sergio Mattarella.

Trump's presence is expected to shake up the May 25 NATO leaders summit even as the US leader has shifted course on the US-European military alliance, declaring last month that it was "no longer obsolete."

Trump has pushed US allies to do more to shoulder defence burdens and is expected to call on the members of the alliance to meet their goals of spending 2% of gross domestic product on defence and to focus on counter-terrorism efforts.

The military alliance is expected to decide before the summit whether or not to join a military coalition against the Islamic State terrorist group, even though all 28 members are already individually involved.

The leaders are not expected to make any major decisions at the summit itself, and for Trump the benefit may come largely in talking to a slew of leaders he has not yet met.

"It is an important meeting on the personal level, not the policy level," Jorge Benitez, who studies NATO at the Atlantic Council think tank, said.

Trump is similarly expected to focus on relationship building at the G7 in Sicily, where along with new French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Theresa May and Italy's Gentiloni, he is one of four new leaders since the group met a year ago in Japan.

His presence will shake up the group, particularly on trade, where he has turned away from international trade deals, and is he also expected to push US allies for help in North Korea, Afghanistan and the Middle East.

By Anne K Walters, dpa

Copyright dpa

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