Riyadh believes Trump will prove a more natural ally after eight years of strained ties with Obama and is hopeful of signing massive weapons deal
Saudi Arabia has prepared a spectacular if wary welcome for Donald Trump, ignoring mounting concerns about his temperament and insisting that his visit here on Saturday will reconfirm the Kingdoms status as a regional force.
Gleeful officials say the US presidents decision to make Riyadh the first stop in his first foreign trip in office sends a powerful message underlining Saudi Arabias clout after eight years of strained bilateral ties under Barack Obama.
Besieged by scandal at home, Trump heads abroad with an ambitious agenda that aims to stake his claim as a global leader, first by delivering a speech on Islam in the religions birthplace, and then moving on to Jerusalem and Rome epicentres of the worlds two other main monotheistic religions before concluding his trip at Nato and G7 summits.
Leaders in Riyadh also believe that Trump will sign on to one of the biggest weapons deals in history and unveil plans to form and back an Arab Nato drastically emboldening a US-led pact that had underwritten the regional security order until early in the Obama administration.
The Saudi leadership has bought into a central theme of Trumps planned speech confronting extremist ideology claiming that emboldened bilateral ties will help it rein in ultra-conservative wahhabi thought that governs life in the Kingdom and which clerics have been widely accused of exporting elsewhere in the Islamic world.
The most anticipated address of Trumps chaotic six months in office is aimed at marking a reset with Muslim states, which were unsettled by his public statements on Islam throughout the presidential campaign but have been since the inauguration found some reassurance in his administrations combative stance towards Iran.
Iran is the grand prize here, said one member of the Saudi royal family, who declined to be named. Everything else is bells and whistles.
The Kingdoms deputy crown prince and defence minister, Mohammed bin Salman has used the Trump visit to amplify his wide-reaching reform program, which includes an overhaul of a bloated public sector, and hopes to encourage more openness through entertainment and cultural exchanges. Such concerns may not be completely laid to rest by a men-only concert after Trumps speech by the country star Toby Keith known for such hits as I Like Girls that Drink Beer and The Angry American.
Saudi officials also appear to have conditioned their moves against extremist wahabism on US support for their agenda on reforms and Iran.
The war against extremism is a centrepiece of that, said the royal family member. Theyre in part saying to Trump: Well do you a deal.
Saudi and US flags are already fluttering along streets in Riyadhs central business district. Trumps domestic travails, and his colourful past as a businessman and television personality, are well known across the capital. There remains deep scepticism about his reasons for visiting, but also a recognition that his past as a dealmaker may prove useful.
Does he get Iran? No, but his advisers do, said Khaled Salman, a finance broker. And so do the hosts on his next stop. Before Trump travels to Jerusalem on Monday, he will be a guest alongside 50 Arab and Muslim leaders at a banquet that Saudi leader King Salman says will forge a new partnership.
The central plank of those closer relations is opposition to Iran, whose leaders Mohammed bin Salman recently accused of trying to control the Islamic world.