Seeking a new narrative, Trump embarks on trip to Middle East and Europe


By Jeff Mason
    WASHINGTON, May 19 (Reuters) - With turmoil enveloping his
administration at home, President Donald Trump heads abroad on
Friday for a trip the White House hopes will shift focus away
from domestic controversies and on to his foreign policy agenda.
    Trump leaves for Saudi Arabia on Friday afternoon and will
make stops next week in Israel, Belgium and Italy. The trip was
billed as a chance to visit places sacred to three of the
world's major religions while creating face time with Arab,
Israeli and European leaders.
    But a political uproar in Washington over Trump's firing of
former FBI Director James Comey, allegations that he pressed
Comey to stop investigating former national security adviser
Michael Flynn, and the subsequent appointment of a special
counsel to look into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016
election and potential ties with Trump's campaign threaten to
overshadow his trip.
    "We look forward to getting this whole situation behind us,"
the Republican president told a news conference at the White
House on Thursday.
    The sojourn abroad, his first foreign trip since taking
office in January, may or may not help.
    Trump is expected to be welcomed warmly by leaders in Riyadh
and Jerusalem, but lingering questions over his views on the
Iran nuclear deal, commitment to NATO security and skepticism of
the Paris climate agreement could generate tension at meetings
with European counterparts in Brussels and Sicily.
    "It's almost always true that when a president goes on a big
foreign trip, especially one that has some important summits ...
that that dominates the news and knocks most other stuff out,"
said Republican strategist Charlie Black.
    "Whether by accident or design, this will help him in terms
of Russia news for a while."

    The White House laid out three purposes for the trip:
reaffirming U.S. leadership globally, building relationships
with world leaders and broadcasting "a message of unity to
America's friends and to the faithful of three of the world's
greatest religions," said national security adviser H.R.
    "What President Trump is seeking is to unite peoples of all
faiths around a common vision of peace, progress and
prosperity," he told reporters.
    Trump generated controversy as a presidential candidate with
his call that Muslims be banned temporarily from entering the
United States. His administration's proposal to limit travel
from several Muslim-majority countries is tied up in court.
    McMaster said Trump would deliver a speech in Saudi Arabia
expressing hope that a peaceful vision of Islam would resonate
    The national security adviser, who publicly defended Trump
this week against allegations that he improperly shared
intelligence information with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei
Lavrov during an Oval Office meeting, has a lot riding on the
trip himself.
    "He's already on thin ice after his attempt to defend the
president's discussion of intelligence with the Russians, and he
urged the president to do this trip, which may have been a bad
idea," said one U.S. official. "It's too long and covers too
much ground and too many topics. If it goes badly, no matter
who's fault it is, it will be H.R.'s."
    Although he kept a grueling schedule as a presidential
candidate, Trump is fond of being home at night, often flying
back to New York after campaign events to sleep in his own bed.
The nine-day trip will be his longest since becoming president.

EXCLUSIVE-Trump campaign had at least 18 undisclosed contacts
with Russians -sources    [nL2N1IK0B9]
FACTBOX-Ex-FBI Director Mueller draws praise as special counsel
on Russia probe    [nL2N1IK006]
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 (Additional reporting by Steve Holland and John Walcott;
Editing by Peter Cooney)
 ((; +1 202 898 8300; On Twitter:
@jeffmason1; Reuters Messaging:

Keywords: USA TRUMP/ (PIX)

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