When President Donald Trump sits down for dinner in Saudi Arabia, caterers have ensured that his favorite meal – steak with a side of ketchup – will be offered alongside the traditional local cuisine.
At NATO and the Group of 7 summits, foreign delegations have gotten word that the new U.S. president prefers short presentations and lots of visual aids. And at all of Trump’s five stops on his first overseas trip, his team has spent weeks trying to build daily downtime into his otherwise jam-packed schedule.
It’s all part of a worldwide effort to accommodate America’s homebody president on a voyage with increasingly raised stakes given the ballooning controversy involving his campaign’s possible ties to Russia. For a former international businessman, Trump simply doesn’t have an affinity for much international.
Even before Trump’s trip morphed from a quick jaunt to Europe into a nine-day behemoth, White House aides were on edge about how the president would take to grueling pressures of foreign travel: the time zone changes, the unfamiliar hotels, the local delicacies. Two officials said they feared that a difficult trip might even lead the president to hand off future traveling duties to Vice President Mike Pence.
Trump’s final itinerary hardly eases him into the delicate world of international diplomacy on foreign soil. After departing Friday on an overnight flight on Air Force One, Trump will hopscotch from Saudi Arabia to Israel to the Vatican. He’ll close his trip with a pair of summits in Brussels and Sicily, often-staid affairs that require leaders to be locked in lengthy plenary sessions.
“The chance of something going wrong – you insult the hosts, you get sick, your boss gets sick, you miscommunicate with your hosts, you make a scheduling error, you need to change the schedule just hours before a meeting, the motorcade get stuck in traffic, or the plane is stranded due to bad weather – is extremely high,” said Julianne Smith, who served as a foreign policy adviser to Vice President Joe Biden and is now a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security.
“Personally, I think they should cut it back now before they regret it,” she said of Trump’s long jaunt.
The trip marks the first time since taking office that Trump has spent a night away from the White House at a property that doesn’t bear his name. And it’s not just the bragging rights Trump gets when he goes to his own properties: Staffers know his meal preferences and the exact temperature he likes a room set at. He’s often surrounded by long-time friends and acquaintances who have memberships to the commander in chief-owned retreats.
The only overnight trip Trump took abroad as a candidate was to mark the opening of a new golf resort in Scotland. He led journalists on a roving tour of the course and said his property would benefit if Britain’s currency tanked following its decision to leave the European Union. He also made a daytrip to Mexico.
The stakes will be far higher as President Trump makes his debut on the international stage. He’s the first president since Jimmy Carter to not travel abroad during his first 100 days in office. And he’ll depart under a cloud of controversy, much of it of his own making, including the White House’s botched handling of FBI Director James Comey’s firing.
Nearly all of Trump’s senior White House officials are traveling with him. First lady Melania Trump will also be on the trip, headlining her own events on each stop.
The Slovenian-born Mrs. Trump is the more seasoned international traveler in the relationship. She lived and worked as a model in Paris and Milan before moving to New York, and speaks multiple languages.
Before the couple married, they flew to Slovenia so the New York real estate mogul could meet his bride-to-be’s family. The day trip marked the only time Trump has set foot in his wife’s home country.
“At least I can say that I went,” Trump told The New York Times last year.
Foreign travel has never been high on Trump’s list of priorities. During his first marriage, he usually stayed behind when wife Ivana took his children for visits to her home country, the former Czechoslovakia. He’s made the occasional stops to meet business partners abroad, but most of his travel has been to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, and other U.S. properties.
Trump’s hosts on his upcoming trip are well-aware of his aversion to travel and are trying to make accommodations to keep him happy.
In Saudi Arabia, people with knowledge of the planning for Trump’s trip say the caterers are planning to offer the president steak and ketchup alongside the lamb and hefty portions of rice on the menu. All the meat will have been butchered in a Shariah-compliant halal manner as per Islamic custom.
The people with knowledge of the Saudis’ planning insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the sensitive details.
AP writer Abdullah al-Shihri in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, contributed to this report.
Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC
–The Associated Press, Julie Pace