RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Donald Trump stepped foot on foreign soil for the first time in his beleaguered presidency on Saturday, hoping that a nine-day diplomatic mission will help reverse two weeks of bad headlines and unite allies against terrorism.
Trump arrived at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh to a red carpet ceremony and a military honor guard dressed in the traditional red-and-white checkered ghutra preferred by the Saudis.
The Saudi king, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, greeted the presidential plane in the 101-degree heat as a brass band played, cannons boomed, and seven Saudi jets flew overhead trailing red, white and blue smoke.
It was a notable contrast from President Obama’s last visit to the kingdom, in which King Salman delegated the task of greeting the president to a distant nephew, the provincial governor, amid tensions over the Iran nuclear deal.
“I’m very happy to see you,” Salman told Trump. “It’s a great honor,” Trump replied, before the two leaders retired to the airport for a formal tea.
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told reporters aboard Air Force One that Trump got very little sleep during the 12-hour, 20-minute overnight flight, reading newspapers and talking to staff.
While Air Force One was in the air, news organizations reported a string of damaging revelations: The New York Times reported that Trump told Russian diplomats that former FBI director James Comey was a “nut job,” and that his firing would ease the pressure on the Russia investigation. The Washington Post reported that a high-ranking White House aide was a “person of interest” in the probe. Later, CNN reported that Russian officials boasted of their influence with former national security adviser Michael…