US leader gets royal treatment in kingdom eager to rekindle ties

US President Donald Trump joining dancers performing the Ardha, a traditional sword dance, as he arrived for a banquet at the the Murabba Palace in Riyadh last Saturday.
US President Donald Trump joining dancers performing the Ardha, a traditional sword dance, as he arrived for a banquet at the the Murabba Palace in Riyadh last Saturday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

RIYADH • US President Donald Trump has been treated like visiting royalty from the moment Air Force One touched down in Riyadh, where he hoped to leave behind his domestic troubles.

In a series of official arrival ceremonies, Mr Trump, his wife Melania and an entourage including virtually his entire senior White House staff and some Cabinet members, were serenaded by military bands, treated to a flyover of Saudi jets, feted in opulent palaces and given the undivided attention of King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud.

King Salman, 81, was taken in a golf cart to the airport where a red carpet was laid out for Mr Trump's arrival last Saturday. The two leaders exchanged greetings as a military brass band played, distant cannon were fired and seven Saudi jets flew overhead in formation, trailing red, white and blue smoke.

King Salman later rode with Mr Trump in the President's armoured Cadillac for the drive into the city.

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Mr Trump and King Salman seemed at ease with each other, chatting through an interpreter. At the royal Al-Yamama Palace, the King draped around Mr Trump's neck the King Abdulaziz medal, the country's top civilian honour.

A multi-storey image of the US leader's face was beamed onto the side of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel where he was staying. As Mr Trump arrived at the Murabba Palace for a royal dinner, hundreds of Saudi men in long, white robes danced the Ardha, a traditional sword dance that is performed on the Saudi National Day and in honour of special guests.

Mr Trump, grinning broadly at the festivities, waded in and took a few obligatory dips in the dance.

Several of Mr Trump's male aides, along with King Salman, participated with more enthusiasm.

The ebullient welcome reflected a kingdom eager to rekindle its relationship with the US, and to use the visit to declare and solidify its own leadership role in the Muslim world.

WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 22, 2017, with the headline 'US leader gets royal treatment in kingdom eager to rekindle ties'. Print Edition | Subscribe