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 Barack 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.
Later, at an elaborate ceremony at the Royal Court, Trump bowed to receive the King Abdul Aziz Collar, considered the kingdom’s highest honor — something Trump had criticized Obama for years ago.
Saturday marked a mostly ceremonial beginning to Trump’s first foreign trip, during which he’s also expected to visit Israel, Rome, Brussels, and Sicily.
But the journey also comes as Trump faces mounting questions about his firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating the Trump campaign’s links to the Russian government.
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…