Donald Trump has departed Washington for his first foreign trip as President, leaving behind a scandal surrounding his surprise sacking of the FBI director which threatens to overshadow the eight-day tour.
Mr Trump flew out of the capital for a trip that White House aides said they hoped would trigger a "reset" after weeks of controversy and chaos.
Mr Trump was reportedly reluctant to leave for the trip, even telling one aide he felt it should be cut in half. But this was before he fired former FBI chief James Comey, allegedly released covert intelligence to Russia, and saw a special prosecutor appointed to investigate his campaign’s ties to Russia.
The trip is expected to give the President some reprieve from a gruelling news cycle – but no one expects it to be easy.
In preparation for the trip, Mr Trump held briefings with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, national security adviser HR McMaster, deputy national security adviser Dina Powell and senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner – several of whom will accompany him on the trip.
Sources told Reuters that Mr Trump’s briefing documents included his name in "as many paragraphs as we can, because he keeps reading if he's mentioned”. Others told The New York Times they worried the President would be swayed by foreign leaders’ flattery, or erupt in off-script outbursts.
Mr Trump will stop first in Saudi Arabia, marking his first night outside of the White House or a Trump-branded property since taking office.
Saudi diplomats reportedly wooed the President into visiting their country via a persuasive, picture-laden PowerPoint presentation. Caterers for state events have been instructed to prepare Mr Trump’s favourite meal – steak and ketchup – to serve alongside local delicacies.
Mr Trump is expected to give a speech on Islam, and announce a $350bn arms deal.
Getting ready for my big foreign trip. Will be strongly protecting American interests - that's what I like to do!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)May 19, 2017
The President will then fly to Israel, where he will meet with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and then with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
On Monday, several outlets reported that the President had revealed classified information about an Isis terrorist plot to two Russian officials during a White House meeting. That information is said to have come from a crucial Israeli intelligence source.
There are questions over whether Mr Trump's disclosure of Israel's sensitive information could damage diplomatic relations between the US and the Middle Eastern country.
Mr Trump has enjoyed warmer relations with Mr Netanyahu than former President Barack Obama, but has also hosted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the White House. On Tuesday, Mr Trump will meet with Mr Abbas again, this time in Bethlehem.
Mr Trump is said to have requested that the traditional visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, be cut short.
Was talking to Snr WH official this week who all but predicted bombshells dropping just as Trump left DC. Ofl feared they would derail trip— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller)May 19, 2017
After departing Israel, Mr Trump will head to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis. The President sparred with Pope Francis during the presidential campaign, after the head pontiff criticised the then-candidate’s controversial plan to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.
“A person who only thinks about building walls, wherever they may be, and not about building bridges, is not a Christian,” Pope Francis said at the time.
Nevertheless, the Vatican has said it would “welcome” a visit from the President.
Mr Trump will meet with Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella in Rome before leaving for a Nato meeting in Brussels.
— Red Pill⏳ (@RedPillDropper)May 19, 2017
Delegates to the Nato summit have been cautioned by their Washington consultants to “keep it short” and use plenty of visual aids in talks with the President. Also important is stroking the President’s ego; complimenting him on his electoral college win and contrasting him favourably with former President Obama.
The summit will involve several meetings with leaders of European Union countries. Mr Trump recently reversed course on the 28-member bloc, describing it as “wonderful”, despite having once called it “a vehicle for Germany”.
On the President’s list of meetings is a working lunch with the recently elected French President Emmanuel Macron. Mr Trump expressed support for Mr Macron’s far-right opponent, Marine Le Pen, during the French election.
On Friday, the President will attend the G7 Summit in Sicily. He heads back to Washington on Saturday.
Asked how Mr Trump’s mounting scandals at home will affect his relations with allies abroad, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters: “We’ll see how the trip goes."
“But these trips are pretty well orchestrated from the point of view of what events you’re going to be at,” he added. “I think it’s an exciting itinerary – one that could be extremely important for US national security and relations. We hope it will be successful.”