By Agence France-Presse
From Riyadh to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Rome, Brussels and Sicily, Donald Trump left a swirl of domestic woes behind Friday as he embarked on a first foreign trip that will be closely watched in capitals the world over.
Trump’s extraordinarily dense first trip — six stops in eight days, and countless face-to-face meetings from Saudi King Salman to Pope Francis via France’s new leader, Emmanuel Macron — is fraught with perils for the president.
The avalanche of revelations in the run-up to his departure have eroded Trump’s standing at home — where the parallels with Richard Nixon’s ill-fated presidency are now being openly drawn.
They also revived questions about his ability to strike a presidential tone with his foreign counterparts.
“Truth is, nobody knows how Donald Trump is going to act or what he’s going to say in meetings of this kind because he’s never done it before,” summed up Stephen Sestanovich of the Council on Foreign Relations.
White House staff cast the 70-year-old’s “friendly but candid” style as an asset in his dealings with foreign leaders.
But as the Republican takes his first steps as head of state on the world stage, his every word, action and tweet will be under the microscope.
“Getting ready for my big foreign trip. Will be strongly protecting American interests – that’s what I like to do!” he said on Twitter before his departure.
Known to dislike long trips, the president was joined by his wife Melania, who has until now cut a highly discreet figure at his side.
His daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner — two of his closest advisers — were also on board Air Force One.
What message will Trump be taking to the world?
On foreign policy, the president has pulled back spectacularly from his most provocative campaign pledges, towards a stance in many respects similar to his predecessor Barack Obama.
But the real estate magnate will still need to explain to foreign partners how his favorite slogan — “America First” — can be compatible with multilateralism.
“President Trump understands that America First does not mean American alone — to the contrary,” insisted his national security advisor, H.R. McMaster.
Catchphrases aside, many questions remain unanswered.