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Trump Says Arms Deal He Signed With Saudi Arabia Will Create Jobs


We'll start today with reports from the Middle East, where Iran's president beat back a challenge from a hard-line rival to win re-election by a comfortable margin. We'll hear more about that in a few minutes. But we'll begin in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, where President Trump has wrapped up his first day on his first foreign trip as president. He was treated to a royal reception by Saudi King Salman and announced a multibillion-dollar arms sale to his host country.

NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is traveling with the president and she's with us now from Riyadh. Tam, thanks so much for being with us.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Glad to be with you.

MARTIN: So let's start with the arms deal the president signed with the Saudis today.

KEITH: Yeah, so it's about $110 billion. Saudi Arabia will use this, the U.S. says, to fight terrorism and also to contribute it to its own defense, freeing up U.S. resources. And the president says that this will create jobs.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: That was a tremendous day. I just want to thank everybody, but tremendous investments into the United States and our military.

MARTIN: Well, now, this is part of a joint U.S.-Saudi effort to push back on Iran's influence in the region. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talked about this at a press conference about the deal. But can you tell us more about what you're hearing where you are?

KEITH: Well, so Tillerson did have this press conference. And he was asked about Rouhani. He said that now would be a great time for Rouhani to make progress on Iran, to be serious about human rights and free speech, and not to build up its ballistic missile program in Iran. What is fascinating is that he didn't talk at all about human rights in Saudi Arabia, the country where he's visiting.

Now, if this had been the Obama administration you'd better believe they would have brought up human rights in some way. But this is a new administration. And this is one of the reasons that Saudi leadership is rather fond of Donald Trump, because he is strongly opposed to Iran and has less interest in sort of democracy-building and human rights.

MARTIN: So the big arms deal is the headline of the day. But what about the rest of the president's day?

KEITH: There were three different welcome ceremonies. (Laughter) There was one at the airport. There was another one earlier in the day. And then this evening there was this huge ceremony with sword dancing, and the president even sort of swayed a little bit. I mean, he has just had the royal treatment all day long. And even the foreign minister - he did this press conference along with Rex Tillerson. He was talking about terrorism, but he was using the language of President Trump.


ADEL AL-JUBEIR: If we can change the conversation in the Islamic world from enmity towards the U.S. to partnership with the U.S. and if we can change the conversation in the U.S. and in the West from enmity towards the Islamic world to one of partnership, we will have truly changed our world. And we will have truly drowned the voices of extremism. And we will have drained the swamps in which - from which extremism and terrorism emanates.

KEITH: Drain the swamp. That's the phrase that President Trump started using towards the end of the campaign and that he's continued to use even now.

MARTIN: As you told us earlier, the president called his day tremendous. But back here in the U.S., you know, questions about possible collusion between his campaign and Russia continue. How is the administration dealing with that?

KEITH: Really the president has largely stayed away from the press. He didn't take any questions today. That little bit of tape is basically all he's said on mic all day long. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson came and did this press conference. He made it almost all the way through the press conference before he was asked about one of these stories. He basically shrugged the question off.

MARTIN: The president is slated to give a speech tomorrow, which is being described as a message to the Muslim world. Is the administration giving any hint about how he's going to approach this?

KEITH: The main approach that they're describing is one of calling for countries to come together to fight against ISIS and calling for Muslim leaders to fight ISIS. What isn't clear is whether the president will use a phrase that he was adamant that should be used previously when President Obama was president, which is radical Islamic terrorism.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Tamara Keith traveling with the president. They are in Saudi Arabia, the first leg of the president's first overseas trip as president of the United States. Tam, thanks so much for speaking with us.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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